Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a very fancy name for a skills based training program developed by a woman named Marsha Linnehan. Though the skills class is taught in as long as a 52 week model, I first learned the DBT approach as a 6 week class. The elements of the program are Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Relationships and Distress Tolerance. DBT is considered an evidence-based approach to help treat borderline personality disorder as well as others with tendencies toward suicidality and self harm.
When I learned the DBT material my first thought was, "this sounds like Buddhism!" Starting as a young adult, I have practiced meditation and mindfulness in the tradition of the Vipassana courses taught by SN Goenka and his assistant teachers.
The similarities between Buddhist practice and DBT is quite astounding...Except that it has worked for thousands of years to improve the lives of people all over the world so there is nothing surprising about using those same tools in the mental health field!
We start with mindfulness. Which means - paying attention in a non judgmental way to one thing at a time in the present moment. This itself is the core of much of what I teach clients to develop a stronger sense of internal witness. Strengthening the part of yourself that can observe what is happening inside of you is the single most valuable step toward healing. Only once you can be in the present moment and experience it as it is, can you begin to create a map you can follow toward changing old behaviors and mentality.
From here the DBT material, as well as the practice of Buddhism, takes you into more and more awareness of how you relate to life's stressors and relationships. DBT offers a very specific strategy for tracking yourself and staying committed to the work by being a part of a group where the material is being taught.
I use the DBT material with all of my clients. Sometimes it's more formal and sometimes it just seeps into the conversation. Recently I was sharing with a client about styles of communication (passive, passive aggressive, aggressive and assertive) and she looked up at me from the worksheets with wide eyes and said, "how come they don't teach this in school!?"
I agree. So many of us are left to our own devices when it comes to learning about relationships and how to deal with triggers and stress. We are so fortunate to have so much healing accessible to us as even folks one or 2 generations back did not.
The stigma of going to therapy is lifting and DBT has helped so much by being empirically studied and spreading throughout the mental health field as a highly desirable modality. Personally, I'd like to see Ms. Linnehan give Gotama the Buddha some credit... but he probably wouldn't mind since it was only ever his intention for people to find comfort and healing, regardless of who and how!!
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Yonat Piva, MA, LMFT
I write about navigating the challenges of prenatal, postpartum, parenting & relationships. I believe we can inhabit our bodies with a renewed sense of fulfillment in being a human woman.