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DBT For Trauma And Depression

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

I am passionate about Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). I use it in my own life and it has made all the difference. I cope with stressful situations more effectively, my relationships are better, and I am calm in the face of crises (which happen all too frequently in my line of work.)

Many people know that DBT was developed by Marsha Linehan about 35 years ago to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, and it’s one of the most effective treatments for BPD. What a lot of people don’t realize is that DBT works for many other problems, like depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar, eating disorders, substance use, caregiver burnout, relationship problems and self care. If anyone stands still long enough I will step up on my soap box and talk about how DBT can improve ANYONE’S life. Friends, colleagues and family members know exactly what I’m talking about (if you’re reading this I hope you’re smiling!)

What is DBT?

DBT is a skills-based therapy. DBT therapists believe that problematic behaviors are learned and therefore can be unlearned. That’s the key – no matter what the problem is, you can learn to cope better and improve your life. I often tweet about DBT skills that can be used everyday. Here’s one you can try right now…

Think of something that bothers you a little bit, or if you’re upset right now just go with that. On a scale of 1-10 how uncomfortable to you feel? 1 is feeling good and 10 is unbearable – for this exercise aim for about a 5. Now find a quiet place with some privacy and run your hands and wrists under cold water for several minutes. Think of nothing else but how the water feels on your skin – the temperature, the texture, the flow… Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now check your feelings. On that 1-10 scale how do you feel right now? Hopefully it went down a few points. If it didn’t , that’s OK. Try it again later and see what happens. This exercise works for most people. With the stress of the holidays coming up, it’s a great time to add some new tools to your coping tool box!

The title of this post is using DBT for Depression and Trauma. DBT helps with many areas in life, I simply mention those because they are the most common problems I see in my practice. With both depression and trauma, emotions can take over and cause you to feel misery and make poor decisions that cause even more problems. The part of your brain that thinks logically literally shuts down and takes a little vacation. Meanwhile you are left trying to cope with out of control emotions.

This is called getting “hijacked”. You can hijacked when you are stuck in traffic and are late for a meeting, when you get into a fight with a loved one, when you feel attacked or threatened, when you’re overwhelmed at work and so on. DBT can bring your thinking brain back online so you can calm down and deal with the crisis in a helpful way. It won’t make the emotions go away, but it will get them back in perspective and you back in control.

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