What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy



Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was created by Marsha Linehan, and as I previously pointed out, it is a skills-based program, that offers education about behavioural responses to overwhelming emotional experiences. These skills, when practiced over and over again, create the muscle memory required to make them a repeatable part of your automatic responses to the circumstances you probably find yourself in, every single day. Through regular practice, this is achievable even when your system is falling into what are perceived, and therefore experienced as, emotionally distressing situations.

In my opinion, the skills of DBT should be something that are taught to teachers of young children, so they can become a part of the school curriculum around the world. I know this is a highly unlikely thing to happen, and at the same time, it is something I will continue to advocate for, because these skills represent the ways in which we can learn to cope with life’s experiences in a healthy way, rather than spiralling into the unhealthy coping mechanisms that a lot of individuals struggle with these days in adult life.

For many people, this involves reparenting the parts of our personality that are trapped in childhood experiences, to make up for the things we did not learn to do at an early age. Reparenting parts is something I will talk about in a little while, as it is an important thing to understand about the long-term goals of this type of work. For now, it’s important to know, that getting to a space where we are open to doing the work involved in reparenting parts, is what the skills of DBT can offer to every individual that participates in the program.

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone who completes DBT Skills Training is going to automatically know how to use the skills. In fact, I know many people who I meet in the circles of behaviour change, that tell me, “Oh yeah, I did DBT before.” Over the years I have developed a somewhat tongue and cheek response to this, that goes something like, “and how are you living DBT today?” This often confuses people, because it’s not emphasised enough by those that teach the skills, that benefitting from the DBT skills training program means actually living the DBT skills, being the DBT skills, and experiencing the DBT skills, not just, “doing” the DBT skills.

Much like any successful behaviour change program, it only works if you actually practice it. Simply reading the books, and learning the different skills, does not mean that you will use them. If you only learn something from a book, and don’t actually practice it the way it was intended, you might know what to do, and maybe even how to do it, but won’t be able to actually do it without experience, and practice. A great example of this is my oldest daughter recently learned to drive. She read the book about driving, watched me drive all the time, and passed the written test, so theoretically she new how to drive.

However, when you put her behind the wheel of a car it was a very different situation. Emotions get involved, confidence is in question, muscle memory is not formed, and automatic behaviours start kicking in. She had to experience the act of driving, benefit from the practice, in order to learn how to do it. That way, it could become part of her automatic responses when she wanted to get somewhere, even when she gets nervous, or overwhelmed. The DBT Skills training program is exactly the same as this. Simply knowing the skills does not mean benefitting from them. In order to get the benefits of the skills, you have to practice them, and as we all know, practice makes permanent. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy offer 4 modules of Skills Training that are designed to support people looking to change behaviours. On the pages connected to this article you will find more details about the modules, and some of the skills available in the program. 


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