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“Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Is Not For Me

Dec 1, 2019

Author: Laura Anderson, MA, LPCC

Many things have changed since 2010 but one thing I love about being a DBT therapist remains the same: as DBT therapists, we are expected to be learning, applying, and practicing DBT skills right along with our clients.

In my nine years as a DBT Skills Group Facilitator, I have had no shortage of opportunities to practice what I preach and demonstrate DBT skills for my clients. For example, when my 20-year-old daughter interrupts a therapy session with a message to call her immediately, I am obligated to both model skillful behavior and answer my patient’s question of “are you okay” while in the tightening grip of parental panic.  

I answer with “I am slowing down my breath (the TIPP skill) and focusing my attention on my feet on the floor (the Mindfulness skill).” Instead of a rush of adrenaline, climbing heart rate, dry mouth and trembling hands, practicing DBT skills blocked the anxiety reaction from triggering in my body and I was able to close the session with my client and handle my daughter’s issue in a logical way. I did not even get upset with her when I was informed that her “emergency” was her car getting towed; I simply made a plan with her for how we would solve the problem and asked her to please inform me ahead of time that “everyone’s okay” if a similar situation arises in the future. This outcome would have been impossible without those skills.

No Such Thing as Cheating In DBT

In all honesty, I feel that using DBT skills as a DBT therapist is a form of cheating. In other words, would I be making these choices and using these skills in stressful moments if I didn’t dread being labeled a hypocrite at the site of me flying off the handle? Another incredible benefit of being a DBT therapist is that every week I get to be inspired by the courage, willingness, persistence and perseverance that I see in each client who attends our program. I have the honor of observing them as they progress from being fearful and skeptical to being excited and inspired by the DBT skills they are practicing.

My go-to skill in stressful moments is to ask myself: “What would I say to a client?” Asking this in a crisis has allowed me to take a step back (the STOP skill) and proceed mindfully. So is my use of DBT skills cheating? Well, what I would say to someone else is that “it doesn’t matter why you use skills, only that you’re willing to try.” In reality, there is no cheating. Any use of DBT skills is a good use of DBT skills. Improving your life is the only thing that counts.

It is with a spirit of gratitude that I embrace my role as a DBT therapist, for my life has been positively impacted by DBT in extraordinary ways. The truth is DBT skills work. In the end it doesn’t matter why we use our skills, what matters is that we are trying harder to be skillful. Our Willingness (Distress Tolerance Skill) makes all the difference.

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