Exploring the Components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Mindfulness
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT treatment is a type of psychotherapy that utilizes a cognitive-behavioral approach to emphasize the psychosocial aspects of treatment. In the next couple of blogs, we’ll be exploring the four different components of DBT, and breaking them down to understand their respective roles within the treatment protocol. First on the list: Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the backbone of DBT, as it’s nearly impossible to change long-standing patterns of feeling, thinking and acting. It’s the core skill that underlies all the other skill sets, and thus is the first skill taught when practicing this method. Let’s dive into Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, in essence, is simply being present. Most people spend only a small portion of their day truly mindfully engaged in their lives. Most of us are already so conditioned to engage with our thoughts rather than with reality, making it very easy for us to lose sight of what is actually happening to us, and consequently, how best to handle what is happening to us. When practicing mindfulness, you shift your attention to your present experience; allowing you to be fully aware of whatever is happening in each moment, rather than getting lost in the past or the future.
Why is Mindfulness Important?
Without being present and paying attention, we can end up doing things on autopilot, and when you live most of your life on automatic pilot, problems begin to arise. If you begin to feel overwhelmed by your emotions, mindfulness can help you take a step back and notice what’s happening, so as not to get caught up in out-of-control emotions. Also, for those struggling with addiction or compulsion, mindfulness helps to stop the chain of habitual behaviors, and increases the level of conscious control you have over your life.
How Is Mindfulness Used in DBT?
Mindfulness is fundamental to regulating emotions, getting through crisis without making things worse and successfully resolving interpersonal conflicts. When you can control your attention through mindfulness, a whole world of choice opens up. You no longer have to act, and react, out of habit, fear, or rapidly changing emotions. Research on the benefits of mindfulness has exploded in recent years. The regular practice of mindfulness has been shown to: Increase emotional regulation, activity in the brain region associated with positive emotions, immune function, and decrease distraction and rumination, anger, emotional irritability, depression and anxiety. The skills taught in the Mindfulness section of DBT treatment can be broken down into 3 Categories: Observe, Describe, and Participate.
- Observe is noticing with direct sensory experience. It’s what you feel, sense, see, taste, touch and hear without labeling it, reacting to it or judging it. When you practice the Observe mindfulness skill you are allowing your immediate experience to just happen – without pushing it away or trying to change it.
- Describe builds on Observe. Observe is just bare-bones attention – noticing without adding a story. Describe is putting words to what you Observe, whether that’s a sensation, emotion or thought. The describe mindfulness skill is a great tool to help you not mistake your every thought or feeling for a fact.
- Participate is just as it sounds; it is throwing yourself completely into an activity, letting go of self-consciousness, judgements and fear. When you Participate in DBT, you are fully immersed in whatever you are doing – instead of just going through the motions while thinking about something else.
One of the most important points about mindfulness, though, is that it can be very difficult. Our brains are hardwired to make judgments, time travel, and create stories. Luckily, there’s no need for perfection, and the more we practice, the easier it becomes, and the better we can gain a little more clarity and control. Meredith O’Brien is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey with advanced training certificate in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Following the DBT treatment module, Meredith and her team provide individual therapy sessions in a nurturing environment to help clients to achieve treatment goals, as well as offer DBT Skills Groups to strengthen treatment. To schedule your appointment with Meredith today, visit www.meredithobrienlcsw.com.