Should I Choose Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT)? This is a question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the years, especially as I’ve begun to advocate for it repeatedly and publicly. The answer is both yes and no.
That answer might surprise some of you when you consider how much and how strongly I advocate that everyone should go through DBT, however, after going through the process for over 2.5 years I recognize that many people are not ready.
I don’t say that to scare you. It’s simply a fact. DBT is a long term intensive therapy that will change your life. If you’re struggling with Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Mood Disorders, Identity Issues, Substance Abuse, or anything is, DBT can and will help you.
But to ensure you know what you’re getting into when you start, I want to share a little of what DBT will entail.
You will begin by meeting with your potential DBT therapist to determine if DBT is the right path for you. If it is, you will begin meeting with them once a week for at least 12-18 months. Additionally, you will begin attending a weekly DBT skills group for 2 hours where you will learn all of the skills associated with DBT therapy: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Radical Acceptance, Non-Judgemental Stance and more.
As long as you are going through the DBT protocol, you do not get to miss skills group or therapy sessions, because if you are skipping or missing either of them, you are not doing the work necessary to heal and better yourself. DBT is work and a lot of it.
DBT is not Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or traditional Talk Therapy. You will struggle, you will learn, and you will take a whole boatload of action. It’s hard and it takes time.
There will be times where you want to quit, but you shouldn’t, because there is something universal about those who complete their initial DBT journey and continue even deeper. They get better.
I started my DBT journey in October of 2016. It is not hyperbole to say this was my last chance and my last hope. I’d tried multiple therapists, all the drugs I could, and it wasn’t helping. In all seriousness, I was weeks away from being dead.
I don’t say that to be dramatic. Just remembering that time brings tears to my eyes. I was in so much pain every, single, day that I could not bear the thought of continuing to live through it. So I went to my first appointment, hoping for a solution and relief, but not expecting it.
I was told the same thing I’m telling you now. That I was about to do something that takes time, work, and commitment. That I was in hell at the moment, but through DBT and working my ass off, I could reach a point where that pain goes away.
I didn’t believe it, but I was willing to try anything so I committed to something that in hindsight I was not ready for.
But I put in the time. I put in the work. And while all along the way it was hard (and still is), every time I looked back the amount of progress I had made was insane.
I almost quit multiple times, even to the point where I was told by my therapist that if I missed another appointment or group she was going to kick me out of the program and stop seeing me. That was my wake up call and my reminder that she takes the process, the program, and my life seriously.
I graduated from my skills group in December of 2017. I entered a graduate group which I am still apart of in April of 2018.
I still see my therapist every week. But I’m alive, which in and of itself would be enough, and beyond that I’m happy. Truly happy for one of the first times in my life. I’m more productive than I ever dreamed possible. I’m achieving things that I didn’t know a person who had been where I was could achieve. My marriage is better. My business is taking off. I’m excelling at everything I do. But I’m still putting in the work, every day and every week.
So the answer is yes, yes you should choose DBT. But no, you should not unless you’re willing to put in the work it takes to make it work.
But if you are ready to put in the work, here are some tips to getting the most out of your DBT journey.
1. Find a reputable DBT therapist.
Not all DBT therapists are created equal. So be sure to find a therapist that has been trained and certified by Marsha Linehan the pioneer of DBT. Be sure they are apart of a group of DBT therapists that continue to hold them accountable and provide assistance where needed.
2. Prepare yourself for the long haul.
DBT is about changing your life, not providing a quick fix. That takes time. The skills group alone is a minimum of a 1-year weekly commitment. Your individual therapy will often last longer than that. But don’t be afraid, you will make progress every step of the way.
3. Make sure the people around you understand you’re on a journey that takes time.
Having a support network is always beneficial, but the people around you who care do not always have the skill on their end to support you the way you need. So don’t rely on it. Before you start your journey make sure to communicate to them that you’re about to undertake something long and difficult and things will change in you in a very positive way, but it will take time so be patient.
4. Write down how you feel on the day you start, and check back in and provide an update every 3 months.
This is something I wish I had done. DBT is a long hard road and as you make progress it can sometimes feel like you aren’t moving at all because you begin to continually attack new problems and new areas for growth the whole time. But you are changing through the whole process. So documentation of where you are at during different stages of your journey is insanely helpful in recognizing the progress you are making. This will make it easier to continue the work.
Those are my best tips for starting, at-least today. I may add more later on, write another list, or something entirely. But for now, this is it.
If you or anyone you know is considering DBT and you have additional questions, please feel free to reach out any time and I’ll be happy to answer them as best as I can.
DBT changed my life, and I have no doubt it can change yours. So take stock of yourself. Decide if you’re really ready to put the work in to change. And if you are, then do it.
Caleb is a Storyteller, Marketing Expert, Business Owner, Husband, and Streamer. He has a B.A in English and Creative Writing from Augustana University in South Dakota, has successfully graduated from DBT Skills group and has become a Twitch Affiliate. After being diagnosed with genetic cancer at age 10 he ventured down a path of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and a myriad of surgeries, that culminated in brain surgery and full mental breakdown in September of 2015. This led to his journey in self-discovery, DBT, solidifying his love for his wife, and growing into a better man and husband than he thought was possible.