In late June of 2011 at the Institute of Living, a psychiatric hospital in Hartford CT, Marsha Linehan candidly spoke to an audience of 300 family members, friends, patients and colleagues about her personal journey out of mental health “hell”, as she put it, to the development of her groundbreaking therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder.
During that talk, Marsha explained how her harrowing experience as a teenaged patient at the very same Institute of Living inspired a solemn vow to “get myself out of hell and that, once I did, I would go back into hell and get others out.”
Over the next two decades Marsha earned a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degree in Psychology searching for and ultimately finding a way to relieve the intense emotional pain that people with severe mental illness suffer. She named it Dialectical Behavior Therapy, commonly known as DBT, a cognitive behavior approach infused with elements of Zen Buddhism.
One of the goals of DBT was to provide practical strategies to help people who were living in such intense emotional pain that they no longer wanted to live, believing that being dead was an improvement over the hopeless lives they were living.
In her Institute of Living talk Marsha spoke of how she was inspired by the experiences of two very different groups of people: Catholic saints who endured horrific torture and execution but still would not renounce their religious beliefs, and people who survived the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps during World War II. How were these people able to endure such misery and still retain their sense of humanity? She concluded it was the same trait that enabled her to survive- resilience – the emotional strength that plays a large role in overcoming devastating emotional turmoil and trauma.
Recently, the New York Times published a series of articles about resilience; a stabilizing factor in the face of adverse life events.
The initial article lists a number of traits that are found in people who have experienced great adversity and have been able to overcome it. These include:
• A positive, realistic outlook. They don’t dwell on negative information and instead look for opportunities to find the positive within the negative.
• A solid sense of what they consider right and wrong, and it tends to guide their decisions.
• A belief in something greater than themselves. This is often found through religious or spiritual practices.
• A dedication to causes they find meaningful and that give them a sense of purpose.
• They accept what they cannot change and focus energy on things they can change.
• They have a mission, a meaning, a purpose. Feeling committed to a meaningful mission in life gives them courage and strength
• A social support system, and they support others. “Very few resilient people go it alone.”, said one expert.
If you are at all familiar with Linehan’s work, you may recognize how much of DBT is woven into the fabric of resiliency. The DBT social skills she designed are learnable strategies that enable people to better cope with the effects of the severe emotional pain typical of Borderline Personality Disorder. Included are several skills to help people who have BPD accept their destructive behaviors while committing to change them; learn ways to tolerate stressful situations; better regulate out of control emotions; and be more effective at interpersonal relationships.
There are now a variety of resources for learning about and enacting DBT social skill. Here are links to a few support resources listed on the BPDvideo.com website.
Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual 2nd Edition
Online BPD Organizations
Online Peer Support
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