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DBT skills my way!

*This post mentions self-harm so please take care*

There are many (possibly infinite!) ways to do DBT skills and most, if not all, DBT skills can be personalised in some way.

For example, I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I have been able to customise quote a few of the skills to fit around my love of the boy wizard. I also love nature and have also found numerous ways to tailor my skills to that too.

Illustration of a girl wearing wings. One speech bubble reads 'listen to my reassurance' and the other reads 'you're okay'.

Mindfulness: Observe & Describe

I do this skill lots when I am walking or travelling, especially when I have said good-bye to a person or have left a social event. This is because at these times I tend to ruminate on what I have said or done which tends to activate a lot of anxiety and embarrassment.

I observe what I can see- hedges, trees, houses- and I look for the details such as the texture of bricks, the colour of a leaf or the pattern of squashed petals on the pavement. I also try to become aware of what each of my senses are taking in.

I then try to put words to it and describe my experience: 'I can smell petrol', 'I can hear a dog barking' or 'I can see a man in a blue coat carrying an umbrella'.


One of the ways I do self-soothe is by lying down and listening to my Harry Potter audiobook. I try to absorb the plot, the descriptions and the characters and submerse myself into the familiar story as much as possible. I even listen to the music when I am getting ready for bed; it relaxes me.

I also do self-soothe by watching nature programmes such as David Attenborough's Blue Planet or Planet Earth. Animals calm me for some reason. Animal Crossing is also a really helpful tool for me.

One Thing At A Time

I do this skill at work when I am overwhelmed. It becomes a bit of a motto for me and I say to myself: 'one thing at a time'. I make a tick list that I go through step-by-step. I then try to focus all of my attention on the task at hand, a bit like when Harry is looking for the golden snitch. He is not thinking about anything else, all of his attention is honed in on one thing only.

Opposite Action

The emotion that troubles me the most is shame. Shame usually makes me want to hide from the people I fear are going to reject me. It also often makes me want to self-harm.

Therefore for me opposite action almost always involves *not* hiding away and instead joining in with the people I fear are rejecting or judging me. Opposite action for shame looks like me leaving my bedroom and daring myself to go downstairs to hang out with my friends or family.


I need to say that doing DBT skills is not always easy. If you have a diagnosis of BPD, you will probably know how it feels to have emotions so strong that they leave you sobbing on the floor, screaming, acting on impulse and feeling completely out of control.

Needless to say, doing skills when your emotions are on full-volume is extremely hard. When I am having strong urges to self-harm for example, it's usually because I want to punish myself for something I feel ashamed. So naturally the last thing I feel like doing is the DBT skill self-soothe!

This year I have managed to master a lot of DBT skills. The learning process has been made possible by my lovely and very thoughtful and skilled therapist. A lot of it has been trial and error, as well as taking some risks to find out which skills work (or don't work!) in which situations.

Have you tailored any skills to your life? Do you have any favourite skills? Which ones do you most frequently use? I would love to know!

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).


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