How to Self-Study DBT (or Anything Else!)

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. and 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.

Quiz yourself.

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!

12 Ways Technology Can Hack Your Brain

We’ve often heard the negative ways that technology can affect our mental health. For example, studies have shown that spending too much time on Facebook and comparing your life (and body) to those of others can cause or exacerbate depression– and most of us are constantly aware how much faster (and more stressful) life has gotten with the advent of the smartphone.

However, in my experience, the internet is full of wonderful, easy-to-use tools for you to work on your recovery. Here are some resources that I’ve found that can make technology work for you and your mental health.

  1. Social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all have amazing recovery communities full of wisdom and insight. You can start with one page or blog and, by tracing what they share, find tons of other pages/blogs to follow.
  2. You Feel Like Shit. You Feel Like Shit is a game-like self care guide that you can play through if you’re feeling bad. It asks questions and then gives recommendations based on your answers, including suggestions like playing with pets and drinking a glass of water.
  3. Psychoeducation. Just learning about your symptoms can be a huge breakthrough and there’s tons of information about every disorder on the internet. If you have a diagnosis, start by learning the basics and then look up your symptoms for more specific information.
  4. To-do apps. If you struggle with stress caused by disorganization, to-do apps can change your life. I am personally a proponent of the Bullet Journal, but I recognize that it does have its flaws. (In particular, a paper journal cannot provide reminder alarms.)
  5. Online DBT courses. Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which was designed for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, is a selection of skills usually taught in a classroom-like setting. However, not everyone has the time for three-hour classes twice a week, even if they could really benefit from the material. Instead, try DBT Peer Connections, a YouTube channel made by a peer who wanted to bring DBT to the masses.
  6. Guided meditation audio. Meditation, and the mindfulness that results, is a super important aspect of self care. With its budding popularity, there are tons of guided meditations out there for every use under the sun. You can find free meditation audio on YouTube, but if you’re into apps, Calm might be a great choice for you.
  7. Communication apps. Regularly keep in touch with friends and loved ones who can help when you’re feeling down. You can use text messenger services (like Facebook Messenger) or video chat (like Skype)– either way, having a strong support system can make a difference in your mental health.
  8. Woebot. Woebot is a robot that will help you with your woes. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, Woebot will respond intelligently to your messages and help you work on your mental health a day at a time. Woebot has Android and iOS apps, but you can also message it with Facebook Messenger.
  9. Food trackers. Here we have to tread carefully: apps that help you lose weight are not going to do anything for your mental health and may, in fact, harm it. However, apps that help you get enough nutrition to keep your body running at its best will help you a lot, especially if you have a history of disordered eating. Some will even help you deal with urges to engage in disordered eating behavior. Some examples include RR Eating Disorder Management and Rise Up: Eating Disorder Help.
  10. Mood trackers. Mood trackers can be particularly helpful when you’re gathering evidence so you can be diagnosed by a professional. Instead of guessing how many days a month you feel depressed, for example, you can have hard evidence.
  11. Journal apps. Some of us, for better or worse, are glued to our phones. If a paper journal isn’t for you, you can always download a good journal app to talk out your feelings and record your insights. Paper journaling has been shown to increase mindfulness, but apps are more portable, giving you the opportunity to write at any time. If you’d like to keep a digital journal, try something designed for long-form writing like the Journey app.
  12. Mental health games. Many app creators have taken the concept of gamification and applied it to mental health. Apps like SuperBetter or Habitica take your day-to-day activities and turn them into a game complete with achievements and rewards. If you’re a video game junkie, you can redirect your urge to win into meeting real-life goals.

Do you know of any other ways technology can help mental health? Share with us in the comments below!

My Introduction to CBT

While I have been a proponent of the related Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for years, I always scorned Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). The basic premise of CBT is that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related and interdependent. It’s very hard to change your feelings directly, so instead, practitioners of CBT focus on changing thoughts and behaviors. Those things can, in turn, influence and ideally clear up unpleasant and unhelpful feelings. For example, if you feel like a failure, it may help you to think “I have achieved so much” and behave in ways that challenge you to achieve even more.

At its worst, CBT is a demand to “just think and behave differently,” as if it is that easy. When thought replacement and Behavior Activation are the only focus of a professional who thinks they understand CBT, the entire process can feel invalidating, unhelpful, and victim-blaming. This was my experience of CBT until very recently— I felt that since I have an extreme need for validation, CBT was my worst enemy.

Recently, however, I gave CBT another try, and guess what? It worked— immediately. The key is that this time around I am validating my feelings before I restructure them. For example, “It’s hard to feel like a failure, but I have achieved lots of things and can do this!”

Here’s a link to a short online course you can take to introduce yourself to CBT:

How to Work on Your Mental Health

If you are struggling with mental health problems, the obvious answers are therapy and medication. But what if you need more than that? How can you work on your mental health independently?

Here are some habits and ways of thinking that I’ve found to be very helpful in my recovery. Give them a try and see what works for you!

Get in the habit of problem-solving.

Problem-solving is in itself a huge topic, but it’s one of the most important aspects of working on your mental health. How do we problem solve mental health specifically?

  1. Identify a problem. Start small! You’re not going to fix your entire life in one day.
  2. Define the problem in as much detail as possible. Journal about it (see below) or make a note in your phone, whatever works. For example: “I drink too much on the weekends because I feel lonely.”
  3. See if maybe you can find the root cause of the problem, because knowing that might help you find solutions. Delve into the past. “I started drinking in college because I felt it would help me connect with people.”
  4. Define your goals as they relate to the problem. Maybe you already have a list of goals, but you need to be specific to the situation you’ve decided to problem-solve. Working on your mental health is a larger goal, but maybe you want to “drink no more than two beers on weekend days.”
  5. Brainstorm solutions. Come up with whatever fixes you can and write them down. You never have to show anyone this, so if some of them are ridiculous, that’s okay!
  6. Experiment. Test your solutions until you find one that sticks. “If I hang out with friends somewhere other than a bar, I won’t drink as much.” Maybe you went camping…. and drank just as much. Okay, back to the drawing board! Try a different solution and see if that one works. Repeat as many times as you need to.

If you need help problem-solving, don’t be afraid to recruit a friend! Ask someone you trust if they would be willing to help problem-solve your mental health, and then ask for their continued consent each time you have something to problem-solve. Hopefully the two of you together can find fixes that stick!

Journal about your mental health.

For some people, freewriting works wonders. It doesn’t do anything for me. Instead, I journal about my symptoms (emotional and physical) and what I was thinking about each day.

Find the type of journaling that works for you and do it. Not only is it good for you in the moment, but if you make it a habit, you will have lots of data to look back on in future problem-solving endeavors!

Regularly eat reasonably healthy food.

Note: I think a lot about how we treat our bodies is fucked up, so you will NEVER see me recommend a strict diet or intentional weight loss.

Getting quality fuel for your body can make a huge difference to your mental health. However, it’s not nearly as complicated as many would make it out to be. Eat things that nourish your soul as well as your body. For more information, check out Intuitive Eating resources like this one.

I tend to not eat enough— both in frequency and amount— and I don’t fare well when I am not fed. I get dizzy and depressed. Therefore, I do have some food rules. I try to feed myself about every four hours, and strive for a variety of food groups each day. (I use the old-fashioned 90s food pyramid as a guide.) I also make sure to eat some kind of carbs with every meal, because they help you feel full longer, as well as extra protein, because I’m a shitty vegetarian and often vegetarians don’t get enough of that. Of course, I also eat fruits and vegetables whenever I feel like it. That’s it— those are my dietary guidelines!

Spend some time experimenting and see what foods nourish you the best!

Eliminate stress wherever you can.

In college, I prided myself on showing up on time to my classes 15 minutes after waking up, having skipped breakfast and any sort of self-care. That’s no way to live! Ten years later, I wake up two hours before I have to be at work. I drink coffee leisurely (my favorite part of the day) and allocate enough time afterwards to make myself a reasonably quality breakfast. This is just one way I have changed my life to eliminate extra, unnecessary stress.

Reducing stress wherever we find it will take some of the weight off our mental load. Even if the source of stress really isn’t that big a deal, lowering your overall stress levels will do wonders for your mental health.

Obviously, not every source of stress could or should be eliminated. You have to weigh the pros and cons as well as your priorities. Maybe you’ve identified that grocery shopping is a big source of stress for you, so you shell out a few extra bucks to get ingredients delivered by Instacart. That’s probably a worthwhile accommodation. On the other hand, maybe your job is also a source of stress because of the pressure of deadlines, but you also love it! I don’t recommend quitting your job, at least not before you have a better one lined up!

Learn to self-validate.

Mental health is a community effort, and often those with the “worst” mental health have been failed the most by their communities. That said, not relying on others to validate your feelings can be a great improvement.

This is one I’m still working on. I often struggle with feeling like I need other people to validate my emotions. Therefore, as soon as I have any feeling, I will text my loved ones and gauge how I should feel based on their reactions. It proves that I don’t trust myself to know how I feel and what needs to be done. Instead, I’d much rather be able to validate myself, so I am not reliant on other people to process my emotions.

For more information about self-validation, check out this link.

Make time for the things you love and build mastery at them.

Make a list of the things you love the most, and then do them. For example, maybe you’re like me and you really love to write. What kind of writing do you like to do? What subjects do you like to write about? Consider listing both a broad heading (”Writing”) as well as specifics (”writing nature poetry”). Is there anything else you need to make a part of your schedule for this to happen? (Like being out in nature?)

Building mastery is a related DBT skill that involves setting reasonable, reachable goals to build up your confidence as well as your skills. Maybe you could make a goal to write one index card a day, or just take a walk. Make sure that you congratulate yourself for each thing you accomplish!

Rest effectively.

Resting effectively can be tough. It doesn’t count as true rest if you’re laying down but you’re worrying about all the things on your mind. It might help you to have a designated Relaxation Zone— like your bed or a couch in your basement— where you turn off all your worries. Alternatively, or in addition, you could try a guided meditation to help your brain relax.

This is another one I’m working on, because I tend to hold myself to very high standards and feel like I shouldn’t be resting, even when I really need it.

Avoid mind-altering substances.

Everyone has their own opinion and their own comfort level in regards to substance use, and I’m not saying that you have to agree with me in order to truly be dedicated to healing. However, I have found that I am much happier when I am not doing substances. Substances tend to be unpredictable— you might have a good time on one day but a bad time another.

(Hint: you may want to consider replacing any substances you do with the non-inebriating forms of them. I am a big proponent of non-alcoholic beer and CBD cigarettes, and regularly use both of them when I feel like letting loose.)

Obviously, this doesn’t include prescribed medications— those are important, and you should continue to take them. If you don’t want to take them anymore, you should make a plan with your medical professional to taper safely off of them, because withdrawal can be really terrible.

For more information, check out these links:

9 Ways to Actively Take Care of Your Mental Health

Create a Plan to Take Care of Your Mental Health