How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Saved Me


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

“Hi, R.” My therapist’s voice sounded cheery and awake.

“It’s 1 a.m. Why’d you answer the phone?” My voice sounded tired and like I’d been crying for hours.

“Because you called and it doesn’t matter what time it is now. You called, and that means you need help, so I answered the phone.”

I started dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in 2011. DBT is a proven treatment for people with borderline personality disorder. There are three components to a comprehensive DBT program: individual therapy — where you face target behaviors head on, group therapy — where you learn different skills to help you navigate life and coach calling — when you call your individual therapist if you need help using skills in a crisis. It does not matter what time of day (or night) it is.

My individual therapist also ran the group with the head of the practice, Jill. Jill actually wrote books with Marsha Linehan, who created DBT, so she was a big deal. Dialectical behavior therapy truly saved my life. In group, we learned so many skills, skills I still use today. I remember there were so many acronyms you had to memorize, and the funny part is the one I remember most is actually the longest one: DEAR MAN. This is a skill used when you want something from someone and you need to be assertive. It stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, (stay) Mindful, Appear confident and Negotiate.

My individual therapist liked to challenge me. She took no bullshit. If I was feeling an emotion, she had me sit with it and describe it, not push it away and ignore it. One time I found myself in CVS one Friday and I bought razor blades. The double edged ones that are really sharp. I called her immediately, crying, admitting I couldn’t control myself and just bought them. She had me commit to bringing them to group that Monday night — in a closed package so I could give them to her. At first I told her I couldn’t do it. I had the blades in my possession, how could I not even open them? But I said I would try. That Monday, during our 20 minute break of the 2 hour group session, we went into the hall and I handed her the package, almost in tears. I was handing over my only way to get relief. Jill was standing nearby, getting the snacks they always put out during the break. She saw what was happening and gave me look of “Damn, I’m proud of you.”

My current therapist is a DBT therapist. My therapist utilizes the same techniques and therapy styles.

If you ask me what is one thing that has really helped in my recovery process, I would say dialectical behavior therapy. I eat, sleep and breathe DBT. I can give you a damn good crash course in mindfulness, which is a core concept in DBT. I can teach you about self-validation. I can spoon-feed you lessons and lessons on interpersonal effectiveness. DBT has truly been a gift to me.

While I do consider myself well-versed in the world of DBT, I am not an expert in the sense that I don’t always use my skills when I should. But I guess it’s a learning process, as all things are in life. I used to think Sure, it’s a learning process, but how long is said process? Why is it taking me so long to get better? But now my view is this: you can’t put a timeline on recovery. There is no prescribed finish line. Take your time, because good things are coming. You just need the skills and support to get you there.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.

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