According to Dr. Kelly Koerner, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be summed up using a famous quote by author F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still function.”
Koerner is a clinical psychologist who trained in DBT with Marsha Linehan, developer of the therapeutic technique. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is considered the best available course of treatment for people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), but the lessons learned in DBT can be applied in your everyday life.
Koerner encourages the use of DBT in our daily lives when we are faced with difficult situations that arise when either you are torn between two potential courses of action regarding a problem or when two people find themselves in “stuck” and opposing positions on a given issue. In other words, when you cannot tolerate the status quo but you may not be able to change the status quo, you may find that DBT techniques can help to change that stuck dynamic and be instrumental in either accepting or changing the situation.
Applying DBT in Your Everyday Life
Koerner spoke about Dialectical Behavior Therapy as part of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) lecture series. During her talk, she led listeners through the process of examining our own personal problems through the lens of DBT to demonstrate for us first-hand how the principles of DBT can be practically applied in our lives.
These are the steps she walked us through as we thought about our own situations and how we might work through them using DBT techniques:
- Identify the two polarizing positions (i.e., to stay in a relationship or leave).
- Take one side and thoroughly examine what about that position is true. Flesh out the truths in both positions in a clear and honest way.
- Find your center of gravity. Literally put your attention on your physical body and focus on breathing. Settle into a feeling of being grounded and balanced.
- Ask yourself what your purpose is in terms of how the person you want to be in life would approach the situation. Who are you and what matters to you? How will you view your actions in this moment when you’re 80 years old? Ground yourself in your purpose.
- Shift your perspective and “unlock” your feelings. From a centered and balanced stance, move in other directions more easily and look at all of the truths about the actual causes of your problems. We can see all of the ways that who we are, how we were brought up, and how our environment affects us have contributed to bringing about the current tension between two polarizing positions. If another person is the opposing force, imagine how their perspective and experiences might be shaping their position.
- Use a “chain analysis” to begin to see all of the components that led up to the conflict, such as ongoing feelings of shame, anger, jealousy, or disappointment that may be the background emotions informing each position.
- In the end, articulate and validate each position and flesh out potential solutions from both sides of the problem. Try to blend solutions in an effort to effectively compromise.
Even when solutions are not immediately apparent, Koerner says, we can learn to accept the situation and sit with it, putting compassionate energy around the dilemma until change naturally takes place.