What Dialectical Behavior Therapy Taught Me

Learned from DBT

Although I have been to many therapists with different approaches since I was eleven years old, I’ve found that the most effective form of therapy for me was Dialectical Behavior Therapy. This type of therapy, often abbreviated as DBT was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan as a treatment for borderline personality disorder.  Since its inception in the 1980’s, DBT has also been found to be helpful for people with depression, PTSD, substance dependencies and eating disorders.  My DBT program consists of two sessions each week- one session is a one-on-one appointment with my assigned therapist, and the other is a skills training group session.

Because I have learned every skill in the DBT binder that I was given at the start of therapy, I was told that I graduated from my first cycle of DBT.  I’ve learned so many things throughout these last six months.  Here are some of the most important lessons that DBT taught me (“importance” for me is based off of how much these realizations have kept me on the right path towards recovery)

 

1. Committing to a therapy program is something to be proud of.

When you make the decision to start any kind of mental health treatment, you’re already on the road to recovery.  It takes a lot of courage and insight to admit that you would benefit from therapy.  When I first started DBT, I was ashamed of the fact that my mental health had reached a point where I needed a more intensive program than just a once-weekly talk session with a therapist.  Eventually, I realized that by simply being willing to learn how to cope with my issues more effectively, I was taking control of my situation.

2. You can change your thoughts and behavior, but no one else’s.

DBT explores strategies that help you to better interpret situations.  It also offers suggestions on ways to respectfully get your points across.  However, these things won’t always change how someone else responds to you.  If someone truly wants to invalidate your feelings, they’re going to do it regardless of how you present yourself to them.  It also took me a while to realize that certain people still treating me the same regardless of my skillfulness doesn’t make interpersonal skills any less useful.  When the person you’re talking to still doesn’t treat you right, your skillfulness will show others (and yourself) that you handled the situation appropriately- maybe the other person was being irrational.

3. Mindfulness is more than just a cliche catchphrase.

How many t-shirts and home decor products have you seen that say “Live in the moment” on them, as if that’s the easiest thing in the world? When I was introduced to the concept of mindfulness in therapy, I was instantly turned off.  I literally rolled my eyes every time I heard the phrase, “Focus your mind on the here and now.”  Eventually, I learned that sometimes reminding yourself to focus on right now (not what’s going to happen) is a great stress reliever.  If you don’t know what might happen in the future, it’s best to not focus on the “what if’s.”  It’s so much easier said than done, but once I was finally able to push away those kinds of thoughts (VERY consciously), I began to be able to handle certain situations as they arise.

 

Hopefully, my second cycle of DBT will help me grow even more as a person battling a mental illness.  While there is no one path to treatment that’ll work for everyone, I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to make my life feel more worthwhile.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without my DBT program.

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