The One Part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy That Helps Me Most


In dialectal behavior therapy (DBT), used in the treatment of borderline personality disorder, it is assumed that every individual has three different states of mind.

“Emotion mind” is hot, mood-dependent and emotion focused. Basically, when you’re in emotion mind, your feelings and urges overpower your logic or reason. You tend to act on impulse and your mood dictates your actions.

On the other hand, when you’re in “reasonable mind,” you are cool, rational and task-focused. When I’m in “reasonable mind”, for example, I focus on doing rather than thinking or being. It kind of feels like being a robot.

Finally, the third state of mind is called “wise mind,” and is the integration of both emotion and reasonable mind, the synthesis of the two. “Wise mind” is “seeing the value of both reason and emotion,” and “bringing left brain and right brain together.” “Wise mind” is “walking the middle path” and the wisdom present within each person.

Wise mind is courageous. Wise mind is intuitive. Wise mind is confident. It is almost always quiet. It has a certain peace.

“Wise mind is that part of each person that can know and experience truth.” Marsha Linehan

When I experience wise mind, I feel grounded, at peace and comfortable in my own skin. For me, wise mind is all about coming from a genuine place. It’s about doing what I need, and not necessarily what I want.

I believe every single one of us can access our inner wisdom.

Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT, says:

“Learning to find wise mind can be like searching for a new channel on the radio. First you hear a lot of static, and you can’t make out the lyrics of the music; but over time, if you keep tuning in, the signal gets louder. You will learn to know right where the station is, and the lyrics become a part of you, so that you can access them automatically — just like you can finish the lyrics immediately if someone starts singing a song you know really, really well.”

You have to be careful though. Sometimes, your emotion mind can trick you into believing you’re in wise mind. For example, when I get the urge to self-harm, my brain tricks me into believing it’s a wise decision, although rationally I know it’s not. One way to know whether you’re in wise mind or not is to adopt an objective point of view. Personally, I ask myself, “What would I tell a dear friend or family member? How would I advise them?” This works for me because no matter how many times I tell myself self-harm is OK, I know I would never encourage my friends to engage in that sort of behavior.

“Wise mind is like a deep well in the ground. The water at the bottom of the well, the entire underground ocean is wise mind. But on the way down there are often trap doors that impede progress. Sometimes the trap doors are so cleverly built that you believe there is no water at the bottom of the well. The trap door may look like the bottom of the well. Perhaps it is locked and you need a key. Perhaps it is nailed shut and you need a hammer, or it is glued shut and you need a chisel. But, with persistence and diligence, the ocean of wisdom at the bottom can be reached.” Marsha Linehan

So now, you might be asking yourself, “This sounds great, but how the hell do I access my wise mind?

It’s important to note that there are many ways to access wise mind, and what works for one person might not work for another. My two favorite ways to access wise mind include:

1. Mindfulness

I like to use mindfulness skills to access my wise mind. Usually, when I’m sitting on the bus, I will take a moment to breathe in “wise” and exhale out “mind.” I find this to be a grounding exercise, and I can practice it anytime, anywhere.

2. Visiting My Therapist’s Office Inside My Head

This is something I learned from a friend doing DBT as well. Whenever I want to access wise mind, I will imagine “going into my therapist’s office” and asking her what she thinks about a certain situation. I will then “listen” for an answer, and act from there. This works for me, especially because I consider my own therapist’s office to be a safe and sacred space.

Lastly, I want to finish this piece by sharing a sweet, meaningful story. It was a spur of the moment thing, totally impulsive, but the other day I walked into Pandora, a jewelry store, and told the lady at the counter: “I’m looking for a thin silver chain necklace, with a letter W pendant.”

Five minutes later, I walked out of the store having bought myself a necklace I plan to wear every day. The W pendant stands for wise mind, and the necklace is now my daily reminder to live my life from a place of wisdom, genuine kindness and love.

Sometimes during the day, I will notice the sterling silver touching my skin, hold the W pendant close to my heart, and access my inner wisdom.

W necklace

How do you access your wise mind?

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Unsplash image via Yuni Stahl


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