What are the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills?

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 We all need skills to cope with challenges and to find our way through inevitable times of pain.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy includes 4 categories of skills.  Many of these skills have been practiced for thousands of years in contemplative and meditative traditions. The exciting news for our times is that, using the tools of modern science and brain research, we now can understand more about the how and why of the effectiveness of these skills.  Contemporary research provides evidence that these skills can help us improve our lives; they enable us to create more of the lives we want.

  • Mindfulness Skills: These skills help us to be aware in the present moment to what is going on inside and outside of us.  Mindfulness helps us increase awareness, attention, and control over our thoughts and behaviors.
  • Distress Tolerance Skills: When we feel overwhelmed with distress, what can we do to tolerate the pain until things shift (and they always do shift)?  Distress Tolerance Skills help us get through difficult situations without making the problem worse.
  • Emotion Regulation Skills: What can we do to identify and gain more control over our emotions? Emotions serve important purposes; these skills help us regulate our intense emotions. Another way to say this is “these skills help us bring more balance to the big ups and downs of our feeling world.”
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills: What skills do we need to build growth-fostering relationships?  These skills are the ones we need to ask for and get what we want. They also provide us with the tools to say “no” effectively. Interpersonal Effectiveness also includes Walking the Middle Path Skills: Middle Path Skills help us to move beyond “either/or” thinking to “and/also” thinking.  Middle Path Skills help us find common ground and take actions that are effective.

 

One of the goals of DBT skills training is to help us have lots of skills to draw upon in challenging times.  There are days when the first skill we try gives us the help we need. There are other times when we may need to try two or six or ten skills to get through our strong reactions or painful feelings.  In DBT we learn many skills so that we have six or ten or more at the ready when we need them.