DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a set of skills ordinarily taught to people with Borderline Personality Disorder or other similar emotion regulation problems. If your emotions rule your life, DBT is for you!
DBT is usually taught through an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), but many people find this hard to access for a variety of reasons. Maybe you work full time, or maybe your insurance won’t cover it. Either way, there are significant reasons why people who can’t access a formal training program may want to self-study DBT.
A note: I am not the expert on self-studying DBT. I am still in the process myself, and often forget to apply skills when I need them. However, this is what I’ve learned about self-studying DBT, and self-studying in general, so far!
Here’s some basic tips on how to self-study DBT:
Get clear on your goals and motivations.
Experts say that it’s important to set goals for self-study. Your goal is probably to learn how to apply DBT skills in your daily life— that’s pretty clear.
In my opinion, motivations are more important for this one. Maybe you feel motivated to learn DBT skills by thinking about all the times you yelled at your spouse when you were frustrated. Maybe you want to be happier and less moody.
Write these down somewhere so you can keep them in mind when studying gets tough!
Learn how you learn best.
Everyone has a different learning style. Some people prefer learning via video, while others like to read. Almost everyone learns quite well by practicing skills themselves and being allowed to make, and account for, mistakes. Reflect on your learning style and what has worked for you in the past (or take a quiz online!) and then remember to apply your learning style throughout your learning journey.
Read about the skills, one at a time.
Reading about the individual skills in the DBT repertoire may provide a helpful introduction, regardless of your learning style. Dbtselfhelp.com and dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com are both helpful if you’re looking to read about DBT.
Next, watch videos.
Once you’ve zoomed in on the skill you’re going to learn today or this week, watch some YouTube videos on the subject. While there didn’t used to be a ton of DBT video content, there is now! Videos might have helpful asides and tangents that you might not get from a straight-forward reading, and learning from different sources can provide different points of view that you may not have thought of.
Get the workbook.
The DBT workbook, also known as the Green Book, is super great for learning DBT, especially if your learning style is more experiential. The Green Book takes you through activities that will help you learn and apply DBT skills, while also making them personal to YOU.
Get the DBT card deck.
This is another purchase that may help you significantly when it comes to learning DBT skills. Made by the same people as the Green Book, this set of 52 cards can help you nail down your knowledge. Every day (or week!), shuffle the deck and draw a card. This is your DBT skill to focus on. I find the cards helpful because not only can they provide insight that you hadn’t thought of (like applying a certain skill to a certain situation that may not be intuitive) but they help you cut down on the overwhelm of trying to remember and apply so many skills at the same time. One day, one skill. That’s it.
If you can’t get the official DBT cards, you could make your own! These could be similar to the original deck, with one skill per card that you draw when you need help, or they could be like flashcards.
Find a group to discuss DBT concepts with.
If there are other people in your life who want to learn DBT, make a DBT study group and learn together! The DBT self help subreddit might help if there’s no one in your life who is also interested in DBT.
Explain DBT to trusted loved ones as you go.
You may not be able to find someone who wants to learn alongside you, but explaining what you’ve learned to someone you trust to listen can be very helpful! Allow them to ask questions to really test your knowledge.
Quizzing yourself is a classic learning method that really holds up. This method requires you to recall information as you learn it, encouraging the routes in your brain to form in useful ways.
You can use physical flashcards or digital flashcard resources like the Anki app. The Anki app has the advantage of automatically practicing with “spaced repetition,” which is a method that helps you cement your learning by practicing trickier questions over the course of your learning journey.
Journal about your progress.
It’s important to reflect on your learning journey, both for deeper understanding of the subjects you’re learning about, and because it can help you remember what you’ve learned.
This could be digital or on paper.
Ask yourself questions like:
-What did I learn today?
-How do I feel about what I learned?
-What does this new information remind me of?
-What questions do I have for future research?
-How did I apply what I learned today?
-How can I apply what I learned today in the future?
-How did I apply what I’ve learned so far on my learning journey?
Try to remain consistent in your efforts.
If you watch 12 hours of DBT videos in one day, you probably won’t retain any information. Likewise, if you don’t practice for weeks, you might lose any progress you’ve already made. You may want to schedule self-directed “class” time every week, or simply plan out what you’re going to study for the next month or so.
Good luck studying!