Darcy Van Dyke felt broken.
After years—decades—battling substance abuse and bipolar disorders, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to hang in there with life any longer. Her relationships were in shambles. Her life was a mess. She didn’t get it. Other people were living happy, successful lives; why couldn’t she?
At 52, Darcy received another mental health diagnosis: borderline personality disorder. Her healthcare provider offered her dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), something no other practitioner had offered before.
“I became a new human being,” Darcy says. “I owe my life to DBT training.”
What is dialectical behavioral therapy?
DBT was developed in the late 1980s to treat chronically suicidal people who were also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Now, DBT is recognized as an effective treatment for a wide range of other disorders, including:
This type of therapy aims to teach people how to manage their emotions and reduce conflict in their relationships. Therapy focuses on four key areas:
You’ll learn mindfulness skills that help slow you down, focus on the present and accept what you’re feeling. When you can take stock of the current situation as it really is and react calmly and responsibly, you better manage your response to conflict.
2. Distress tolerance
When your emotions are running high, you’re more prone to acting out in unhealthy ways. In DBT, your therapist teaches you distress tolerance skills, which enable you to handle negative emotions in a healthy way. While you can’t always control a situation, with these skills, you learn how to control how you react to it.
3. Interpersonal effectiveness
These skills help you communicate with others in healthy and appropriately assertive ways that maintain your self-respect. Your therapist will teach you how to communicate in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, which reduces conflict and improves relationships.
4. Emotion regulation
Your therapist will teach you strategies to reduce the intensity of negative feelings and ride them out without acting out and causing problems. You learn to reduce your vulnerability to emotional suffering and therefore, your unhealthy responses to such suffering.
Power in knowledge
Darcy particularly found freedom in learning how her brain’s wiring has influenced her life.
“I lived my life not understanding why my brain worked differently than others. DBT helped me understand how my brain processes information, emotions and input. I learned what those things look like for most people and what they look like for me.
“I wasn’t broken; it was just my normal. I had to reframe the negative things I had been telling myself for years.”
Reframing negative self talk
Jackie Lacy also tried many different therapies and counselors over the years, but she found her experience with DBT the most helpful.
“I learned how to be mindful and focus on all my senses in the present moment,” the California native says. “I suffer from anxiety, but practicing mindfulness has really helped me calm down and stay in the present moment. It also helped me to calm myself enough to practice meditation, which has been life-changing.
“I would highly recommend DBT to anyone who is bipolar, because it also helps with reframing that negative self-talk which leads to depression. DBT gave me practical tools for my everyday life.”
Evidence of effectiveness
DBT is being used to decrease self-harming behavior, improve relationships with loved ones and gain vital self-respect. Evidence of its effectiveness includes:
DBT is included on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices
The National Institutes of Health named it a “well-established treatment” for people with psychosocial disorders
Anxiety.org says it often “works where other therapies fail”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention believes that DBT might actually change the way the brain works
But we’ll let Darcy be the final word on its effectiveness.
“Now that I am aware of why I might be reacting the way I do, I can use the tools I was given to make it easier for me,” she says. “DBT saved my life.”
Megan Krause is a recovered addict and freelance writer living an amazing, sober life in Phoenix, Arizona. Connect with her on LinkedIn.