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5 Key Skills of DBT Therapy

DBT Skills to Survive and Thrive During Crisis

  • Self-soothe
  • IMPROVE
  • Using Pros and Cons
  • Turning The Mind
  • TIPP

Using Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help a client presenting with a range of illnesses and disorders, but many key skills used in DBT are also helpful for anyone, including therapists, as a way to reduce stress. The four modules of DBT are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, and each of these modes contains a number of skills. When stress levels rise toward crisis, these skills from the Distress Tolerance module can be particularly effective for returning to a relaxed state.

Related resource: Top 15 Best Online Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

1. Self-Soothe

This key DBT skill works to restore a sense of calm by using the five senses to comfort oneself. When not in crisis, identify things or activities that help you feel good. Activating multiple senses can make the behavior more effective. For instance, a scented bubble bath by candlelight uses smell, touch, and vision. Small, portable objects can also be used to self-soothe, such as a stress ball infused with lavender scent. When a crisis hits, it’s difficult to think straight, so figuring out ahead of time what works is the crucial part of this skill.

2. IMPROVE

This acronym stands for imagery, meaning, prayer, relaxation, one thing at a time, vacation, and encouragement. Imagery means to imagine the situation being resolved positively. Finding meaning in an unpleasant situation, such as knowing the experience can be used to help others, can help make these situations more tolerable. Prayer can take many forms, such as reciting the Serenity Prayer or simply tuning in to a greater consciousness.

Relaxing the body by focusing on the breath or taking a walk can help calm the mind. Focusing on one thing at a time can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed. Taking a vacation simply means separating from the day-to-day stressors for a period of time, and this can be as simple as turning the smartphone off and being quiet for an hour. Encouraging oneself with phrases such as “I got this” or “I’m almost done,” can help one get through a difficult time.

3. Using Pros and Cons

This DBT skill is especially useful in combating potentially harmful urges. It can be a short, mental list of reasons for and against a certain action, or it can be a detailed, written list to thoroughly examine a situation.

4. Turning The Mind

This DBT skill is about the internal, mental effort required to make a decision. It is about turning away from the idea of helplessness and toward the idea of personal empowerment. The focus is often about acceptance of the given situation. This acceptance can make the difference between continuing to suffer and achieving peace of mind.

5. TIPP

This key DBT skill is helpful at the height of a crisis. The acronym stands for temperature change, intense exercise, paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation. Submerging the face in cold water or holding an ice cube on the eyes or cheek can actually change the body chemistry. Intense exercise, even for very short periods of time, can blast the negative energy and encourage the brain to produce calming endorphins. Slow, deep breathing can engage the nervous system to bring about a sense of calm, and even Forbes published an article about the science of paced breathing. Paired muscle relaxation is going through each part of the body and systematically tensing then relaxing the muscles.

These are just a few of the dozens of skills and techniques employed in DBT. The more they are practiced, the more effective they will be. While a deep understanding of this form or therapy is necessary to treat clients, many of the key skills of DBT can be used by anyone to bring a deeper sense of calm and contentment into daily life.