DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy.
A dialectic is a philosophy concept dealing with opposite ideas that can be simultaneously true. The opposites in DBT are acceptance and change.
Radical acceptance in DBT teaches to “acknowledge your present situation, whatever it is, without judging the events or criticizing yourself.” The change comes in the form of learning new skills and changing behaviors in order to work toward your goals. The ultimate goal in DBT is building a life worth living.
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook explains that DBT is “extraordinarily effective at helping people manage overwhelming emotions.”
A lot of people struggle with overwhelming emotions. It’s as if the knob is turned to maximum volume on much of what they feel. When they get angry or sad or scared, it shows up as a big, powerful wave that can sweep them off their feet.
I am one of these people. While I can be very logical and practical at times, I’ve been fighting with overwhelming emotions my entire life. Even as a child I could tell that I reacted differently than other children my age, and my parents often couldn’t understand why certain things made me upset.
My personal theory is that the hypersensitivity is just another trait, or maybe it’s an aspect of my ADHD. More importantly, I’m pretty sure this hypersensitivity is what makes me so prone to depression. It’s widely accepted that highly sensitive people, especially artists, writers, and musicians, experience depression at a higher rate than the average population.
DBT teaches skills to help people manage these overwhelming emotions:
- distress tolerance
- emotion regulation
- interpersonal effectiveness
The concepts in DBT are pretty straightforward but it’s very difficult in practice. If you’ve ever tried to meditate before, you know that it’s a constant exercise in redirecting your attention to your breath.
Now imagine trying to meditate on a roller coaster or during a wrestling match. That’s what it feels like trying to use these skills in the midst of an overwhelming emotional episode.
So we practice the skills in less stressful contexts and after a while it becomes automatic, like how your posture gradually improves from lifting weights.
With these new skills, the overwhelming emotions become less overwhelming and it’s easier to work toward that big goal: Building a life worth living.