“Well, I finished that packet you gave me last week. It was amazing! But it kept mentioning skills and modules that would be covered later…so do you have more of this stuff?”
“Actually that is part of a whole therapy method: dialectical behavior therapy. I want you to do DBT when you finish up the program here. I think it’s really going to be a good next step for you.”
Those words from D, the lead therapist for my intensive outpatient program at my local psychiatric hospital, started me down a rabbit hole of online reading and research that ultimately brought me to where I am today. Nothing with her was ever coincidental or by chance: she’s amazing at her job and at connecting with even the most difficult of patients (like me). I’m certain that she gave me that packet as a way to get me “hooked” on DBT, a way to let me find the real source of my struggles and the way to cope. I spent the next several days reading everything I could get my hands on about DBT, about Marsha Linehan (the “creator” of DBT), and about borderline personality disorder.
For the first time in my life, I felt that I had found a concrete sense of who I was. Why had nobody mentioned this 15 years ago when I first started exhibiting self-harm and suicidal ideation? I clearly exhibited all of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder and had for as long as many people had known me. I soon came to find, though, that the path to being labeled as “a borderline” was not as simple as one would think. Most professionals (including my own psychiatrist who I think is amazing at his job) avoid labeling BPD or even suggesting it to patients.
Then Dr. R entered my life, and this changed. I discovered Dr. R while furiously searching the internet for DBT therapists in my area, and up popped her profile on Psychology Today. I scheduled an initial appointment to see her individually for one session before her skills group started just to “test the waters.” I remember that first session so vividly, even down to the little details like the smell of essential oils and sweet greetings from her dog, Denver (who faithfully attends nearly all my sessions). Dr. R didn’t freak out when I mentioned BPD, in fact, she completely agreed with my desire to be “labeled.” Dr. R has been living DBT and using it with her patients for years.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was invented by Marsha Linehan in the late 1980s as an off branch of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. DBT was originally developed specifically as a treatment for chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Now considered the “gold standard” treatment for people who have BPD, dialectical behavior therapy has also proven to be a highly effective psychotherapy treatment for people who struggle with addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, and chronic depression.
Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on both change and acceptance. The four main components (often referred to as “modules”) of DBT are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. For someone who has spent most of her life feeling everything intensely and often losing control due to my emotions, struggling to make and keep friendships, and constantly feeling out of touch with life, these things were exactly what I needed in my life.
With Dr. R’s wonderful guidance, I’ve been cutting my way through my “dysregulation” and working hard to implement the skills of DBT into my daily life. I am finding that, for the first time in my entire life, that I not only understand who I am and why I am that person, but I also feel that I am gaining the power to control my own life. BPD has always been a part of me, but without knowing what that part was, there was no possible way for me to know how to deal with it.