Was 2015 an emotional roller-coaster for you? Many people who had an emotional year will often set up a New Year’s resolution to target the various areas of their lives that they want to “fix”, but in doing so they fail to see the bigger picture. Often times it is more helpful to take a bird’s eye view of your life, and rather than trying to repair things you think may be broken, it is better to work on building an overall strong foundation for life. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is one means by which a person can begin the process of building that foundation.
DBT is a modality that is particularly helpful for clients with Eating Disorders. The common thread is that clients often describe feeling at the mercy of intense emotions and do not have skills to help them cope. As such, they would be likely to turn to the Eating Disorder or other self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to numb those feelings. DBT was designed to help people feel a sense of control of their emotions and develop a life worth living.
At Cielo House we use DBT as one of our treatment modalities. DBT’s reputation as an evidence -based therapy refers to the multitude of research supporting successful treatment outcomes. The success seemingly stems from the delivery style of DBT. DBT skills are taught in a hands-on, experiential way, giving participants a practical toolbox of skills to practice and apply in real life. Clients practice and gain a sense of skillfulness in dealing with emotionally overwhelming situations, so they no longer feel the need to revert to their previous self-destructive numbing behaviors.
One of the first skills taught in a DBT skills group is mindfulness. Mindfulness, which is adapted from Buddhist meditation, helps clients to build awareness of their thoughts, sensations and emotions. Mindfulness is not about learning how become a Buddhist, or even to sit quietly like a monk for hours. It’s about paying attention to the present moment, kind of like the antithesis of multi-tasking. And the most important tenet of mindfulness practice is observing our experience non-judgmentally. You read it correctly, no judging! This proves to be a helpful tool for many clients, especially those struggling with Eating Disorders, who are often plagued by self-judgments. Criticism and self-judgment are common “mindtraps” for many people. Even mild self-judgment can limit your life, but more extreme versions can lead to serious self-destructive behaviors. What DBT offers to those who struggle with self-judgments is a practice in awareness that helps to overcome the habit of negative thinking and develop self-compassion and acceptance. Mindfulness practices teach clients how to notice their thoughts and emotions without getting swept away by them. They are then better able to make wise choices that are in alignment with their life goals.
Other skills taught in DBT include interpersonal effectiveness skills to achieve healthy relationships, distress tolerance for getting through tough times without making them worse, and emotion regulation skills for learning how to master feelings rather than running from them. DBT offers a comprehensive life-building approach by examining all of these domains to a life worth living, rather than just one. So as you begin to visualize what you want your life to look at in 2016, it may not be you need to go about trying to repair things about yourself, it may be you need to do some work on the foundation. Consider DBT as a way to provide a framework for what you want to build.