Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Musings Part One

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was created by Marsha Linehan, a psychologist based in Washington. It combines cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness principles in a highly structured program to treat individuals with emotional regulation problems, most notably those with Borderline Personality Disorders.

It has undergone a lot of scientific review and now is considered one of the most successful therapies for this diagnosis, as Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is not treatable by pharmaceuticals (although medication can be used to address symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep issues).

I was eager to receive training in DBT at my practicum and jumped at the chance as I knew it was one of those therapies that is very valuable to have under your belt as an up and coming therapist. However, I was wary of how much I would be comfortable with it as it relies heavily on Zen Buddhist principles, and I am a Christian.

I have never myself gotten into practicing meditation. In an Anglican church I was part of I tried to engage in centring prayer but did not persist in it nor did attend any training.  I have done meditation on verses or words in the Bible, as there are verses in the Bible that tell us to meditate on God’s nature, his creation, and his word.  However, I was wary of meditation that aims to empty the mind or to be rid of all thoughts.

Why is that, you may ask? I wondered the purpose of emptying the mind, and what you fill it with after it is empty? I experiences of meditation alone form one’s basis for who they are then I would object, because I think we discover that in discovering God’s love for us, not in entering a state of nothingness.  However, it is true that emptying our mind can be good for getting rid of anxious, depressing, or disturbing thoughts which most people struggle with, especially those with Borderline Personality Disorder.

A scripture came to mind when I was thinking of the idea of emptying the mind: Luke 11: 24-36

24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

So the message I get from this verse is to be mindful that after you cleanse or heal the soul/mind that you do not leave it unoccupied, which can be the case with meditation.  But this verse is not primarily directed at those whose lives are cleansed by God but then do not fill it with anything from God afterward.

Needless to say I had my reservations about whether I could teach this therapy given that I have not previously practiced meditation and I wondered if my faith would be in conflict.

What I have discovered to date (within the context of the DBT group that I have been observing) have been very useful concepts, many for which I can see a clear biblical basis which I will outline in my next post.