First Visit to Local NAMI Group (Learning about DBT)

I attended a local NAMI affiliate meeting this week for the first time. I received an email about the meetings after signing up to be a member of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)  recently. I wasn’t sure exactly what the intentions of these weekly meetings were, who they were geared towards and what kinds of things would be discussed. So, the opportunity to go came about and I went. (Something I totally would not have done all by myself a couple of years ago.)

For this week’s meeting they had a guest speaker, a recently retired therapist from the county mental health agency. He spoke on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy from his perspective. Honestly, I have heard of DBT and have been exposed to it as far as knowing that it can be an optional approach to treatment, and touching on some of the aspects of it, but I have not participated in DBT for a sustained period of time or with a clear understanding of  its composition and theory.

For a good hour, he discussed the background, philosophies and context from which this therapeutic approach was created.  Turns out DBT was developed in the early 90’s by Dr. Marsha Linehan. She had been applying standard CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) in her practice with women who had histories of chronic suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, urges to self-harm, and self-mutilation. She and her research team found a set of specific problems in using CBT with these clients.

As a result of defining these issues and looking for ways to resolve them, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was born. DBT is a regimented practice with specific targets and treatment stages. It requires a long term commitment but addresses each level of need by a client, from a crisis/life threatening stage to a stage of learning new skills and applying them in daily life. The best description of this can be found here, in the paragraph Stages and Targets. The main skill sets that are taught are interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and mindfulness.

DBT is used to treat a variety of conditions, one of the most common Borderline Personality Disorder, but not limited to that by any means. Its uses include but are not limited to Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse, and Trauma. (Components of DBT, were introduced to me while I was in treatment on a trauma unit in 2006.) Research is promising, showing decreased likelihood to drop out of therapy, patients less likely to be hospitalized, as well as reductions in suicidal ideation and self-harm. (See paragraph: Research on DBT)

I feel really positive about what I learned about DBT and that this therapy can be usefully and successfully applied to many who are suffering. I like the way DBT meshes key components of CBT with mindfulness, acceptance and validation. I will link to some sites for more information on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy at the bottom of this post. But, please, share information and resources if you know of any in the comments.

While learning about DBT was an interesting aspect of attending the meeting it is my understanding that this particular kind of meeting is meant as a support group for those dealing with mental illness as well as family members of those with mental illness. For my needs as a health activist, I am looking for a different kind of meeting, one in which I can learn about ways to bring my activism to the community. I discussed this with the leader of the group and she told me about the affiliate’s board meeting that will be taking place in a couple of weeks. I hope that I am able to attend and bring back more good things to share.

I left the meeting grateful that there are resources out there like this NAMI meeting for those in need in my community, but also hoping that I can locate more of our community’s resources and be able to share first hand knowledge of them.


For further reading on DBT here are a couple of resources I came across:

Behavioral Tech, LLC founded by Dr. Linehan

DBT Self-Help

Building a Life Worth Living : with a little help from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Treating Eating Disorders with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

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