Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I remember the first time I heard about DBT. I was entering my second internship in grad school in a program that had a heavy basis in DBT. At the time, this was highly unusual in substance abuse treatment in Nashville. I had done a bit of research prior to starting, but I was still a bit clueless about the theory and process behind it. I sat in on my first group and walked out wondering what on Earth they had been talking about. I talked with my supervisor the next day, who confessed she’d experienced her own blocks with DBT, which made me feel a little better. At the time, it all just felt like Greek to me. It took a while (and truthfully, probably six months of facilitating a DBT group), but I really came to love DBT and the very practical ways it provides skills for improving day to day living for every single person who uses it. Whether you have had struggles with substance abuse, relationships, emotional regulation, anger management, or even if you feel like you’re fairly well-adjusted, DBT has something for you.
I had the privilege of watching the life-changing impact of DBT on the women in the recovery program I worked in for several years. These women learned to apply DBT skills in a way that allowed them to strengthen their recovery and avoid relapse. I have watched individuals who were previously unable to regulate their emotions learn to access their wise mind, problem solve, and find real and productive solutions in their lives. They were happier, more confident, had better relationships, and became the best mothers they could be. It was among the most amazing things I’ve been able to observe.
So, how does DBT do all these wonderful things? Well, it breaks down the exceptionally complex responses we can have to different stressors and teaches us how to respond in more productive ways. For example, one might typically respond to a stressful situation with frustration and anger. Rather than seeing a way to improve the circumstance or respond appropriately, they might react in ways that makes the situation worse and damages relationships. DBT provides practical ways to avoid this outcome. For someone with this type of anger response, learning to walk away and utilize our own physiology to bring our reaction back into a manageable state is key. What’s my favorite way to do this? Well, it depends a bit on the individual and the setting, but splashing cold water on your face, holding onto ice, or dunking your face in ice water can tame the adrenaline rush. This provides an opportunity to problem solve or choose a different reaction, which can lead to a far better outcome.
It can be hard to want to let go of the reactions that we’ve been working with most, if not all, of our lives. We know how to have them. We’re comfortable with them. We generally have an idea what the outcome will be, even if we don’t necessarily like it. It feels predictable and routine, and as any young child can tell you, a routine with negative outcomes is better than no routine at all. There comes a point, though, when we realize that the negative impact of this routine outweighs the comfort of having it. Perhaps you lose a relationship you really valued. Perhaps you lose a job. Maybe it’s even bigger. Maybe you lose your housing or your family or your child. It takes so much courage to try to change things we feel are ingrained within us, but we can change. It takes hard work and commitment and willingness. It takes knowing that you won’t always get it right, and being willing to keep trying anyway.
Does DBT sound like a good choice for you? Do you want to know more? There are a variety of ways you can engage with DBT. I am always happy to speak with those interested and discuss options. Feel free to send me an email or give me a call for more information.