DBT and Mindfulness

Portrait of two women with namaste hands in the rainforest

This blog post is the first in a series of blog posts on mindfulness as it relates to Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) treatment, which can be relied upon during the quintessential safety and stabilization phase of trauma therapy for early childhood attachment wounds, emotional dysregulation, or unsettling thoughts or feelings. Follow or bookmark the blog category DBT to discover the power of mindfulness practice and learn each of the six essential DBT skills for cultivating mindfulness.

In today’s fast-paced and busy world, it’s common to experience emotional distress. Whether it’s due to work-related stress, relationship problems, or financial worries, we all face challenging situations that can trigger negative emotions. While there are many ways to cope with emotional distress, one technique that has become the cornerstone of DBT is mindfulness.

What is DBT? Have you heard of DBT? It’s a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy that was created by Marsha Linehan in the 1990s specifically for people with borderline personality disorder (Linehan, 1993). DBT combines traditional CBT techniques with mindfulness practices that originate from the East, with a focus on balancing acceptance and change through a dialectical approach (Linehan, 2015). Interestingly, DBT has been adapted for use with a wide variety of mental health conditions, such as substance use disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and has been proven to be effective in treating them (Linehan et al., 2015). It’s actually become quite well-known and widely accepted as an evidence-based treatment with strong empirical support.

How does DBT rely on mindfulness? DBT emphasizes the importance of mindfulness practices from Eastern traditions, which involve being present in the moment and non-judgmentally observing one’s thoughts and feelings. By practicing mindfulness, individuals in DBT can become more aware of their thoughts and emotions and develop more effective strategies for managing them. Mindfulness helps to build self-awareness, self-control, and emotional regulation, which are essential skills for individuals with borderline personality disorder and other mental health conditions. In DBT, mindfulness is used in conjunction with other treatment techniques to promote a dialectical approach that balances acceptance and change. By focusing on the present moment and developing a non-judgmental stance, individuals in DBT can learn to tolerate distress and manage difficult emotions more effectively, ultimately leading to improved mental health and well-being.

What is Mindfulness? It is the practice of being present and fully engaged in the moment, without judgment. It involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-reactive way, and accepting them as they are, without trying to change or control them. Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways, such as meditation, breathing exercises, or simply paying attention to your surroundings. Research suggests that mindfulness is associated with numerous psychological and physical health benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression, increased emotional regulation, improved brain function, and decreased physiological arousal (Hofmann et al., 2010; Khoury et al., 2013; Tang et al., 2007).

How does mindfulness help with emotional distress? Studies have shown that mindfulness can be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional distress. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to observe your thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. This can lead to greater emotional regulation and a sense of calmness, even in the face of difficult situations. For example, a randomized controlled trial of individuals with anxiety disorders found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, compared to a control group (Hofmann et al., 2010). Another study found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was associated with significant reductions in depressive symptoms in individuals with major depressive disorder (Khoury et al., 2013).

Is mindfulness a religion? Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment or distraction. It is based on the Buddhist concept of “sati,” which means awareness or mindfulness. While mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist traditions, it is not a religious practice in itself (Segal et al., 2013). Rather, mindfulness is a secular practice that has been adapted for use in a range of contexts, including healthcare, education, and business (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Mindfulness practices have been found to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance cognitive functioning (Baer, 2003). Moreover, research suggests that mindfulness can help individuals cope with a variety of health conditions, including chronic pain, depression, and addiction (Khoury et al., 2015). Thus, while mindfulness has a historical association with Buddhism, it is a technique that is accessible to people of all faiths and belief systems and has been shown to have numerous benefits for both physical and mental health.

What is the connection between mindfulness and mysticism? The relationship between mindfulness and mysticism is often misunderstood. Mindfulness is a technique that involves bringing your attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. It is a secular practice that can be used independently of any spiritual or religious beliefs. However, mindfulness can also be incorporated into spiritual practices, and you may find that it deepens your spiritual experiences. This is because mindfulness can help you develop a greater awareness of your inner experiences, including your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This heightened awareness can lead to a greater sense of interconnectedness with yourself, others, and the world around you, which may be experienced as a sense of mystical or spiritual connection. However, this connection is not inherent to the practice of mindfulness and can vary widely depending on your personal beliefs and experiences. Therefore, mindfulness can be used as a secular technique for improving mental health and well-being, as well as a complementary practice for those seeking to deepen their spiritual experiences.

Do I need to learn to meditate? Meditation is a popular practice for cultivating mindfulness, but it may not be the right fit for everyone. Fortunately, there are many other techniques available that can be used to achieve a state of mindfulness. Deep breathing exercises, for instance, are a great way to reduce stress and improve overall well-being. By focusing on your breath, you can become more present in the moment and let go of distractions. Another technique for cultivating mindfulness is to simply pay attention to your surroundings. This can be as simple as taking a few moments to observe the sights, sounds, and smells around you. By doing so, you can become more grounded in the present moment and appreciate the beauty of the world around you. The key is to find a technique that resonates with you and to practice it regularly in order to develop a greater sense of mindfulness and presence in your daily life.

What about mindfulness and flow state? Mindfulness and flow are two interconnected concepts that can enhance one’s ability to stay focused and engaged in the present moment. Mindfulness involves being fully present and aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, without judgment or distraction. This state of mind can be cultivated through various practices, such as meditation, breathing exercises, or simply paying attention to one’s surroundings. When a person is mindful, they are more likely to enter a state of flow, which is characterized by intense focus and engagement in an activity. Flow can be experienced in a variety of situations, such as during sports, music, or creative pursuits. By combining mindfulness and flow, individuals can enhance their ability to perform at their best and achieve a sense of fulfillment in their daily lives.

Let’s explore emotional avoidance and emotional intensity… Mindfulness encourages individuals to acknowledge and accept their emotions, rather than pushing them away or trying to distract themselves from them. This approach can be especially helpful for people who struggle with emotional avoidance, as it allows them to confront their feelings in a safe and non-judgmental way. On the other hand, emotional intensity can be overwhelming and distracting, making it challenging to focus on tasks or activities. Mindfulness can also be useful in managing emotional intensity by helping individuals regulate their emotions and stay grounded in the present moment. By cultivating a mindful approach to emotions, individuals can develop greater emotional resilience, improve their overall well-being, and enhance their ability to navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and effectiveness.

Reduce emotional avoidance or intensity with mindfulness. Mindfulness is an effective tool for reducing emotional avoidance and intensity, as it enables individuals to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment or reactivity. Rather than suppressing or avoiding difficult emotions, mindfulness encourages individuals to acknowledge and accept them, recognizing that emotions are a natural part of the human experience. This approach can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with emotional regulation, as it allows them to observe their emotions from a more objective perspective, without getting caught up in the intensity of the moment. By practicing mindfulness regularly, individuals can learn to regulate their emotions more effectively, reducing the risk of emotional dysregulation and improving their overall emotional well-being. Additionally, by cultivating a more mindful approach to emotions, individuals may find that they are better able to cope with stress, anxiety, and other challenges that arise in their daily lives.

Does the mind wander during present-moment awareness? You bet. Mind wandering is a common challenge when practicing mindfulness. It’s easy to become distracted by thoughts, worries, and other distractions, pulling us away from the present moment. However, the goal of mindfulness is to cultivate present-moment awareness, where we are fully engaged in our current experience. One way to overcome mind wandering is to gently redirect our attention back to the present moment whenever we notice our mind has wandered. This can be done by focusing on our breath, and our senses, or simply observing our thoughts without judgment. With practice, we can develop greater present-moment awareness, leading to increased emotional regulation and well-being.

In conclusion, mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing emotional distress and promoting well-being. By cultivating present-moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of our thoughts and emotions, we can develop greater emotional regulation and resilience. The benefits of mindfulness are supported by a growing body of research, and the practice has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional distress. Whether through meditation, breathing exercises, or simply paying attention to our surroundings, mindfulness is a versatile and accessible practice that can be used by anyone, regardless of their faith or belief system. By reducing emotional avoidance and emotional intensity and promoting present-moment awareness, mindfulness can help us live more fulfilling and balanced lives.


Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

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