Doing Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was completely life-changing and helped me greatly with my BPD. I completed DBT some months ago and I did it for a duration of around two years, involving individual, group and phone sessions.
Here are ten things I learnt thanks to this type of therapy. If you want a more general introduction to DBT and what it is, check out this video I made. If you're looking for info about DBT skills too, then I made a video series about some of my favourite DBT skills also. Okay, so let's dive into ten things I learnt over the course of this therapy...
1. My difficulties are valid
After years of wondering whether I was an incompetent mess of a human being (or worse, a 'monster') for having intense emotions that I didn't know how to manage, DBT showed me that struggling to regulate my emotions was not my fault. I learnt that emotion regulation is something that some people need to be taught later in life, if for some reason they didn't learn these skills adequately or effectively in the past.
I also learnt that some people have more intense and overwhelming emotions than others. Learning this took away some of the same and embarrassment I felt about having emotional dysregulation and was a building block for learning self-compassion.
2. Emotion regulation can be learnt
Someone who struggles with overwhelming emotions and intense emotional distress doesn't have to struggle forever. Things can be done to help a person to regulate their emotions. One part of this is the individual therapy during which a person learns about their past and how this may have shaped their present difficulties. Another, very key, part of this is the DBT skills which are techniques people can apply to help them manage thoughts, emotions, urges and behaviours.
3. Behaviour first, emotions follow
I have written quite a bit about this in my forthcoming book. My therapist taught me that I first need to do something different in order to feel something different. She told me that my emotions won't change first. This took some time to sink in, but when it did it was a revelation to me. Instead of lying in bed feeling sad and waiting to stop feeling sad to get out of bed, I learnt I had to get out of bed first in order to stop feeling sad. Understanding that 'behaviour comes first, emotions follow' has helped me life a much more stable life. Many times, it has stopped my distress from taking over.
4. Change is constant
I have lived most of my life wishing for things to stay the same. I think I have a 'preserving instinct'...maybe I should work for a museum so I can live out my love of preserving the past (!). In all seriousness though, this desperation for things to stay the same forever has caused me a lot of anxiety.
Thanks to DBT, I am slowing coming round to the idea that nothing can stay the same. Relationships evolve, things move on, some people stay and some people leave. And there is nothing I can do to stop that. In fact, the less I try to stop that the more relaxed my life will be. For a person like me who loves certainty, this is hard though.
5. Take care of physical needs
At times I used to neglect rest, sleep and food. DBT showed me that if I didn't prioritise these things, then it would be so much harder to regulate my emotions. It was a bitter pill to swallow, so to speak, as I was used to working myself into the ground in order to feel a sense of satisfaction and peace myself. Luckily, I don't generally do this anymore.
These are just five things I learnt from doing DBT. As you will see from my YouTube channel I learnt lots of specific skills that have helped reduce my distress and feel calmer.
Some of these I will share in my forthcoming book too! Feel free to let me know on social media if you have done DBT and if you learnt anything.
Useful book about DBT with lots of detail: DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets by Marsha M. Linehan. Guilford Press; 2nd edition (9 Dec. 2014).
If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Ko-Fi to help towards my running costs. Your support is much appreciated.