DBT Skills – Mindfulness….

In a previous post, I provide an overview of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).  For those not interested in reading it, here’s the cliff-notes-version of the post….

“DBT” is a therapy approach developed by Marsha Linehan.  It is based on insights from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as eastern meditative traditions such as Buddhism.  The word “dialectical” refers to a concern with opposing ideas.  Linehan’s DBT approach utilizes a combination of change and acceptance strategies.  In this respect, a DBT approach upholds insight found within the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

DBT Basic Mindfulness Skills…

“Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions – in the present moment – without judging or criticizing – yourself or your experience” (Mckay, 2007, p. 75).”).

8242961713_ace5438905_zThe concept of mindfulness is actually pretty simple (in theory): being fully present “in the here and now”.   This sounds simplistic enough, but it requires two seemingly contradictory tasks.  On one hand, mindfulness requires us to be fully present so we can fully experience our sensations and emotions.  On the other hand, it requires this fully experience from a nonjudgmental perspective. In other words,   mindfulness also requires us to examine our thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them or identifying with them.  In order to describe these two divergent perspectives, Marsha Linehan uses the terms emotional mind, logical mind, and wise mind:

The Logical Mind – Trusts facts and utilizes an empirically based thought process when making decisions.  While critical in dealing with reality, the logical mind doesn’t handle emotions or interpersonal relationships very effectively.
The Emotional Mind – The emotional mind is ruled by passionate feeling states.  The emotional mind is useful in handling matters of felt value as a reference point of understanding.  For this reason, abstract values such as love are best understood from this viewpoint.  However, the emotional mind is rather ineffective in handling pragmatic affairs of daily life.
The Wise Mind is the ability to make healthy decisions about your life based on both your rational thoughts and your emotions…It is a decision-making process that balances the reasoning of your thoughts with the needs of your emotions” (McKay, et al, 2007, p. 75).  

DBT Wise-Mindedness Worksheet

STEP ONE: What Skills

212108114_e3a154b2c1_zObservation skills are a key component of wise-mindfulness.  As an INFP Myers-Briggs Temperament, I find these skills critical.  I believe firmly there’s a huge difference between thinking through your emotions and thinking with them.  This skill provides allows us to use our wise-mindedness and see things “as they are” without judgment.  Here’s the cliff-notes overview of how this skill works:  

Observe without judgment.
Describe what is – “Just Notice”.
Fully participate in life.


I like to think of this as a “mental game”.  Firstly, I set aside all judgments, emotions and beliefs.  I let go of a need to cling to, run from, or push away facts.  Instead I play a “devil’s advocate” position.  I detach myself as if a disembodied teflon mind.  Looking down at my life from this “safe distance”, what can I simply observe?  While controlling my attention to what is happening, I witness inward the thoughts, sensations, and feelings that bubble up.  Mind you, I’m not my feelings, instead I’m an observer of them.


Next I blog 🙂 🙂 . This involves putting words to the experiences and emotions.  With vivid and rich detail, describe the goings on around you and within you.  For those of you who are not “verbal processors”, I suggest getting an old camera and videotaping yourself.  I did this when my kids were young and I didn’t have time to blog.  I simply taped my thoughts and feelings in that moment.  I would review it at a later time with my husband.  The results were quite illuminating.


Becoming immersed with your experience requires you to forget yourself.  Practice on losing your self-consciousness.  Let go of the past, you can’t change it.  Let go of your future, it hasn’t happened it. Admittedly, this is a tough one, but with practice you get better at it…

STEP TWO: How Skills

As I understand it, “how skills” describe this wise-mindfulness from a different perspective.  How does it “look like” in action?  How do you observe, describe, and participate?

Nonjudgmentally –

Setting aside our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings for the time being, what are we observing.  Looking around us what do the senses tell us about what’s happening.  Looking within, what are you noticing about your reactions?  What feelings and thought processes spring into your brain?  How are you compelled to respond?

One-Mindfully –

This is a tough one for me.  First, letting go of future worries and past regrets, focus on right now. Next, since the brain is terrible at multitasking, focus on one thing.  Do one thing at a time, prioritize, and let go of any need to “do it all at once”.  Finally, resist any need to mentally or physically check out, (this is a tough one but its important).  Stay here in the present, taking it all in.

Effectively –

I’m not good at this either.  I was never known for my pragmatism.  Step back, consider your goals. What is necessary to achieve them?  What can you do in the present moment to bring yourself a step closer toward your goals?

As I stated earlier, this is easier said than done, but worth the effort.

“How & What Skills DBT Worksheet”

Images 1, 2, 3


Mckay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.


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