One of the questions we get a lot is what are some of the specific Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) techniques that we teach clients? I think this is a great question and one that we can answer through some blog posts, so here’s the first one – I hope you like it!
Mindfulness is the at the core of dialectical behaviour therapy – it’s the foundation, if you will, that everything else is built upon. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, without judgement and without attachment to it. It sounds simple, but it is often very difficult for us to practice in our daily lives.
What are the goals of mindfulness, with respect to DBT, you might wonder? According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, the goals are threefold:
- Reduce suffering and increase happiness
- Increase control of your mind
- Experience reality as it is
The mindfulness skills learned through engaging in dialectical behaviour therapy help clients create their own mindfulness practice. A mindfulness practice involves incorporating different skills into a routine practice that is woven into our lives as a foundation for doing life. This can involve any or all of the skills, meditation, contemplation, and mindful movement.
There are three core mindfulness skills in dialectical behaviour therapy and I want to introduce one of my favourites because it’s one of the ones I’ve found most helpful: Wise Mind.
The Wild Mind
You won’t find this terminology in any DBT books, but it’s what I call the dance between the two extreme states of our minds: logic vs. emotion. In DBT terms, we’d call the two polar opposites Reasonable Mind and Emotion Mind.
Often, we tend toward one or the other especially when we’re under stress. Those of us who are more naturally prone to logic will rely on this part of our mind to make everything rational, logical, and pragmatic at the cost of ignoring emotional content. Others more naturally drawn to emotion will rely on this part of the mind to make everything about mood, feelings, and impulses to do or say things.
As you can probably tell, both of these approaches are likely to create problems because they focus on one area at the cost of ignoring the other. So, what’s the alternative?
The Wise Mind
The concept of Wise Mind within the framework of mindfulness involves combining the two minds, Reasonable Mind and Emotion Mind into a new framework – Wise Mind. Wise Mind balances the Reasonable Mind and Emotion Mind and allows us to follow a middle path.
Another description of Wise Mind is something we often call wisdom. In this case, it’s the wisdom within each of us that combines both our more rational, reasonable mind with the emotion-focused part to create a full picture. This focus allows us to see, and value both reason and emotion, bringing the left and right brains together as one.
I was just remarking to a client that someone once described wisdom to me this way:
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
Apparently, this quote came from Miles Kingston, a journalist and musician, and what I like is that it helps explain the difference between wisdom and knowledge. In our case, knowledge is what each of our minds is telling us – our reasonable and our emotion mind. Wisdom is knowing how to combine that information and knowing what to do with it – our Wise Mind.
How Can I Get Started Using Wise Mind?
Mindfulness takes practice, as does listening to Wise Mind. Here’s an example exercise that you can try right now to see if you can listen to your inner wisdom using Wise Mind. It’s taken from the Mindfulness Handouts in the DBT Skills Training Manual from Dr. Marsha Linehan:
Asking is this Wise mind?
Breathing in, ask yourself, “Is this (action, thought, plan, etc.) Wise Mind?”
- Breathing out, listen for the answer.
- Listen, but do not give yourself the answer. Do not tell yourself the answer; listen for it.
- Continue asking on each in-breath for some time. If no answer comes, try again another time.
This may not come naturally to you at first, in fact, it probably won’t. Repeat this exercise and see if you can allow yourself to enter a mindful space where you can notice what your Reasonable Mind and Emotion Mind are telling you, and then listen to your Wise Mind to see how you can trust your inner wisdom and operate out of an effective, mindful place in your decisions.
If you’d like help with this, we’re always happy to help! Please give us a call or contact us for options!
Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT® skills training handouts and worksheets (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.