Sometimes, life throws a curveball your way. People lie. Relationships end. Our days don’t go as planned. And when these things happen, how do you react?
In stressful situations, our thoughts move at light speed—we can barely get a handle on them before we start searching for a coping mechanism. Some people have coping mechanisms that do more harm than good. They may engage in self-harm, substance abuse, and/or suicidal thoughts. Whenever stress or anxiety arises, they rely on these coping mechanisms, despite the harm they cause.
Through DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy), you learn skills that help you cope with extreme emotions. DBT gives you the tools you need to manage distressing thoughts and regulate your emotions. If you have intense emotional responses and the behaviours that follow are destructive to your life, DBT gives you a way to stay in control.
Thinking about trying DBT? Here’s how it works and how it can help:
We mentioned earlier that in DBT, you’re taught four important skills. Two of those skills are about acceptance, and two help you make changes. Here’s what you can do to help target harmful behaviours:
There’s a common misconception that mindfulness is this easy, breezy thing.
But when your mind is full of difficult emotions and distressing thoughts, it’s not easy to be present with yourself.
With DBT, people learn to observe their thoughts and then return to the present moment. Even though this sounds easy, it’s very different from what most people do—which is to experience a distressing thought and then try to stifle it or distract themselves from it.
And here enters another challenging part of mindfulness—as you experience your thoughts and feelings, you are fully aware of them. You don’t fight them back, judge yourself, or distract yourself. Instead, you acknowledge and stay present while they happen.
This skill comes in handy when we enter crisis mode—when something upsets us very deeply. Using distress tolerance, people learn how to move forward when they’re in extreme emotional turmoil.
A few coping strategies include:
Learn how to better communicate with other people, especially when your needs aren’t being met. You learn skills to assert what you require, say “no” when you need to, and be mindful of how others will react to you.
Emotions are completely natural. Everyone feels joy and sorrow, fear and anger, excitement and surprise.
But when we experience a really intense emotion, we might react in harmful ways—by engaging in suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and/or substance use.
You can understand your emotions as a wave. They rise and fall but never disappear completely. DBT helps you keep afloat when your feelings fluctuate.
Emotional regulation builds on all the other skills you learn through dialectical behaviour therapy. By learning these skills, you can avoid the destructive behaviours you may have previously used to cope with strong emotions.
Through DBT, you can develop a greater awareness of your emotions, problem-solving skills for emotional crises, and how to communicate your needs to others.
You can also challenge your destructive coping mechanisms and learn to replace them with healthier habits.
Research shows that DBT is an effective therapy. It’s proven to reduce suicide attempts, self-injury, and inpatient hospitalizations. It’s also effective at helping reduce substance abuse.
If you’re familiar with CBT, you’ll notice some similarities between the two treatments. The difference is that DBT puts more emphasis on acceptance.
CBT focuses on changing thought patterns. In DBT, people become more mindful and accepting of their thoughts. Then, they work on changing how they react to them. There’s also a bigger focus on interpersonal relationships and changing the way you communicate with others.