Nearly two years have passed since I first heard the words “wise mind” and “dialectics.” Since then, I’ve extensively researched Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). I attend weekly DBT skills groups while working with a therapist through DBT-informed treatment for my borderline personality disorder. It’s been a journey to say the least. Although I’m nowhere near mastery, I am trying my best to be a better version of myself.
Many people don’t understand DBT, why it requires so much work, and why I chose this type of therapy as opposed to a different, more mainstream psychotherapy approach. Advocating for BPD and educating others about this therapy approach go hand-in-hand, though.
What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?
Marsha Linehan developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short. It’s highly researched and an evidence-based off-branch of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). DBT combines the concepts of “change” and “acceptance,” and uses both analysis and skills training.
One of the main pillars of DBT is the concept of dialectics. In other words, the discourse between two or more opposing ideals. In DBT, we learn that there can be truth in everything. Many people with borderline personality disorder experience black-and-white thinking, causing them to often think in extremes. By utilizing the concept of dialectics, patients and therapists can work together to see events and people from multiple perspectives.
DBT focuses in four main areas: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. DBT also involves a combination of individual therapy sessions, skills training group sessions, coaching in between sessions, and therapist consultation teams. In order for someone in DBT to see results, the coach or therapist assigns homework and skills practice.
Who benefits from DBT?
Marsha Linehan initially developed DBT for patients with borderline personality disorder. Today, many consider DBT to be the “gold standard” for treating borderline personality disorder. However, this therapy approach also shows positive results with anyone who battles frequent suicidal ideation, people with mood disorders who find that medication and typical talk therapy don’t always help, those who battle addiction, and people who struggle with eating disorders.
With that being said, many of the skills taught in dialectical behavior therapy are highly beneficial to everyday life. Anyone can benefit from better interpersonal skills and mindful presence within their daily lives. Furthermore, nearly everyone deals with stress and emotional intensity at some point. DBT can help anyone live a more balanced, peaceful life.
How has DBT helped me personally?
Dialectical behavior therapy is saving my life, no exaggeration. Before starting DBT, I utilized self-harm and alcohol consumption to cope with the overwhelming feelings and chronic emptiness that consumed me. Although I took daily medications for depression and anxiety and saw a therapist weekly, I still struggled to function at work and at home. I felt like a lost cause and worried that my condition would never improve.
As I spend time and energy learning and practicing these skills, though, I find myself struggling less and less. I still have work to do, but many areas of my life are improving thanks to dialectical behavior therapy (and my therapist in general). Mindfulness helps me come back to the present and stay there when my mind tries to wander. Distress tolerance skills help ground me when emotions reach the “red zone.” I frequently use opposite action when I know that my feelings don’t match the facts of the situation. And, finally, I’m slowly improving my interpersonal relationships through careful study and use of many of the skills and tools.
My hope is that, with time and dedication, I can manage my borderline personality disorder with DBT. I’d love to find a way to balance my symptoms and fully function in society again with full-time employment. Mostly, though, I long to build and maintain stable and sustainable relationships with the people I love most.