5 Ways You're Already Using DBT


Did you know that you might be using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) daily, even if you don’t know exactly what DBT is?

DBT is a form of therapy that we use here at Sheppard Pratt that teaches skills to help manage difficult emotions — which can often be accompanied by unhelpful and/or harmful behaviors — through learning skills to live a life that feels meaningful.

It can be daunting at first to learn DBT skills as a patient or a client, or even as a provider — there’s so much to it and so many acronyms!

But, when broken down, some of the main skills and principles of DBT aren’t as complicated as they may initially seem. Here’s a list of five ways you might already be using DBT in your life. And, if you’re already doing one of these, keep it up (that was an example of CHEERLEADING, a DBT skill)!

  1. Do you ever find yourself listening to someone or something and your mind wanders? We all do it. The moment when you notice that this happened — that you’re not actively paying attention — and then you bring your attention back to what you were listening to, is an example of you being mindful. You’re using DBT’s mindfulness skill! Mindfulness is when you are fully engaged in the present moment, observing something, describing it, and being one with it.
  2. You have a project you are working on and it is taking a long time. Of course, you’re having some trouble sticking with the task even though you think it is an important one. Have you ever made a plan or schedule for working on a project for a certain amount of time, and then rewarded yourself for your hard work after finishing? Maybe with a walk, a piece of chocolate, shopping online, or calling a friend? That’s you using positive behavioral reinforcement! Reinforcement is when something (the chocolate) is given with the goal of strengthening a behavior (working on your project). You chose to give yourself a treat or a break as a reward for completing your goal. Way to go! 
  3. Something big is coming up, like a presentation or job interview. Ten, fifteen, maybe thirty minutes before it starts, you notice you are getting sweaty, your heart is racing, you even started pacing, and you think to yourself, “Wow, I’m pretty anxious right now.” You’re using emotion regulation skills when you label the things you are feeling in your body and then name the emotion these go with. Specifically, you’re understanding your own emotions by observing and describing them (and, yes, this is also mindfulness). This is the first (very important) step in managing your emotions when they get extreme. 
  4. Imagine a time when someone you cared about suffered a big loss; maybe a close family member of theirs passed away. Did you support them by emailing, calling, or physically being present? Did you offer some kind and compassionate words, such as “this must be so hard for you?" This is an example of validation. Some important aspects of providing validation are to be present and show interest, to accurately reflect what the person is experiencing, and to communicate that yes, their response is reasonable.
  5. Have you ever had a very difficult conversation? (Yes, of course you have!) If you chose to look the other person in the eye during this conversation, you are using an interpersonal effectiveness skill, specifically showing interest and providing validation with eye contact. This one can be quite hard to do, especially when you’re breaking bad news or disagreeing with someone. Interpersonal effectiveness skills are geared toward obtaining and maintaining relationships while also valuing your own self-respect.

If you’ve ever done any of these five things, you’re already incorporating DBT into your life! Want to learn more about DBT and how you can keep using it? Visit our DBT resources page!

Andrea Barrocas Gottlieb, PhD, is the DBT Program Coordinator at Sheppard Pratt. She completed her psychology internship and postdoctoral training at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, where she learned to implement Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with youth and adults. She has studied and published research on nonsuicidal self-injury and mood disorders in youth. Dr. Gottlieb helps Sheppard Pratt implement DBT more widely through program development and staff training.