To start, I want to clarify that this is not a scientific article. I will be covering the basics of what DBT is and how I integrate it into my practice.
DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It’s based off the philosophy of dialectics. A dialectic is the idea of two opposing ideas that can be true at the same time. This is like hot versus cold, up versus down, night versus day. A more sophisticated dialectic is like your bed time. Going to bed at the same, early time each night is important for our health. However, it’s also true that it’s fun to stay up as late as you want!
The goal of DBT is to find balance between two opposing ideas.
Therefore, a balanced sleep dialectic would mean I go to sleep at the same, early time most of the time such as during the workweek. But I also allow myself to stay up late from time to time like on the weekends.
Why Are Dialectics Important?
The reason there’s an entire therapy based around dialectics is because when we swing between two opposing ideas, we experience chaos. Imagine a ship on stormy seas. It’s normally relatively easy to walk on a large ship. But when the waves rock it back and forth, we can barely keep our footing and cling helplessly to the mast or our lifelines around our waist.
Experiencing the skills taught by DBT is similar to guiding your ship out of the storm. Suddenly, it becomes so much easier to navigate the deck.
Why Should I Consider DBT?
Maybe you’ve heard of this dialectic before. Sometimes I’m really depressed and then other times I’m really anxious. This is a dialectic. Both are true. When we swing between them without learning the skills for our brains to return to baseline, we experience hopelessness, confusion, and massive distress. It oftentimes feels like “my life will never get better.” We feel trapped. Stuck. Like our emotions rule us instead of us having control over and understanding our emotions.
Many of us have also been raised in chronically invalidating environments. This means that when we felt something and subsequently expressed it, we were often told that we were wrong to feel that way. When we feel invalidated, we often will feel whatever we were initially feeling even more intensely.
This is what happens when we start off feeling a low level emotion and then suddenly feel ourselves rocket out of control. The idea is if our emotions are louder, they’re more likely to get validation. This kind of pattern is what we learn to get the attention and support we need. It’s exhausting. By finding balance and learning how to self-validate, we learn how to express our emotions at lower intensities and get healthy attention for them.
A large part of DBT is skills training in various domains such as interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, mindfulness, and distress tolerance. Some of us are born with a natural, biological predisposition to navigate the world via our emotions. I am, in fact, one of these individuals. Even though many people, my clients included, would describe me as very logical, they would also say that I experience my world through a very strong, emotional lens.
Practicing the skills of DBT has allowed me a lot more balance in my own life and has helped me feel much more in control over my emotions. In addition to the empirical evidence and research behind DBT, I vouch for this therapy’s efficacy based on my own experiences.
Another big part of DBT is that therapists that practice DBT must also abide by DBT principles and use the coping skills provided by DBT. I have many times utilized the distress tolerance skills and have found them immensely helpful.
So if you find yourself oftentimes not really sure of what you’re feeling, afraid of the intensity of your emotions, struggle with self-validation, and tend to experience feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or others as well as struggling in your relationships, DBT is a very good fit for you.
It openly embraces who you are and believes you already have everything you need to change.
The Founding DBT Dialectic
I’ll keep this brief but I find it incredibly beautiful. The dialectic that DBT primarily operates out of is validation and change. This means that you are perfect just the way you are and have everything you need to make healthy changes in your life. I thoroughly enjoy this application in my own life. That I can love myself just as I am, mistakes and all, and still find healing changes and personal growth.
So that’s some of the basics of DBT. I use it because it is empirically validated and has a lot of research behind it proving it to be effective. I believe you don’t have to have a specific diagnosis to benefit from DBT either. It’s a little bit like learning a new language or game. It can be tricky at first to make some of these new skills and thinking patterns habit. But with practice, I know you’ll begin to feel the benefits the same way I did.