Are you starting your DBT journey and wondering where to start with so much information out there? Are you overwhelmed with book options, self-help websites, and blogs? This is the DBT 101 Starter Kit.
As a DBT Therapist I get a lot of questions from people who are overwhelmed or don't know where to begin. Every person will find different parts of DBT that work for them (or don't work,) so be gentle with yourself in taking any advice- including my own. Also if you are in traditional in-person group DBT, I would reach out to your provider's staff regarding books and other resources specific to their program.
1. How much time do you have to dedicate to this right now?
Begin by thinking about how much time can you reasonably spend daily or weekly learning DBT. The purpose or learning DBT is to utilize the skills not just memorize names of skills. Do you want to sit down for an hour a week and learn? Ten minutes of quiet time a night? Both are great ways to start. Knowing which fits best into your life will help make the best use of your time.
2. Get a Book!
There are many texts out there. Here are my favorites that I have and use for my courses. The book pictured below is hands down my favorite. It's easy to use and understand and contains worksheets for its 125 skills. If the price is too steep, try your local library! There are also some good free pdfs of workbooks online you can find. That's not my top pick but useful and free DBT is better than no DBT!
There are some great more specific books out there by the same company that are specific to certain diagnoses that also have great value. If you strongly identify with a diagnosis, those books might be a great start. There are books for Bipolar, Anxiety, PTSD and Anger among others. They are all different colors, but from the same publishers and they look nearly identical.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a module of DBT (I think to think of DBT being a large book with 4 chapters, Mindfulness is one of them). As much as diving right into Interpersonal Skills sounds great, Mindfulness maybe a better starting point or an overlap in learning along with another module. To help you get started, these are my favorite Mindfulness apps and books:
YouTube: Personally, I like starting by listening to calming music and focusing on my breath for a few minutes. I like gentle music or sounds of rain like this, there are plenty of guided mediations on YouTube, I prefer the shorter ones like this, but long ones might work for you especially if you have been doing Mindfulness for a while, like this one hour one. My assistant Kat, has her own video series on DBT here.
Podcasts: Podcasts are great and popular and there are a lot: some discuss mindfulness and DBT and some go skill-by-skill explaining them all.
Bay Area DBT: Great podcast that goes in-depth about skills
DBT Therapy Focus: Podcast that focuses on skills, but also some personal episodes
Charlie Swenson: 50+ podcasts with each one a separate skill, Charlie is an MD and each podcast is about an hour long
4. Create a Plan
So now you have a new book ready to read, some time dedicated to it set aside, and next you need a plan. The following is the schedule for traditional in-person DBT (90 minutes) and it works well, but I also think there can be lots of variety when doing this on your own.
10-15 minutes of mindfulness
Review diary cards with the group (video explanation of diary cards here)
Learn 1-2 new skills
Review skills, including how and when to use them
When learning DBT on your own, this might be a great guide. I have also worked with students online who used this format with success. Feel free to create your own.
Schedule for 45-60 minutes weekly:
10-15 minutes mindfulness
Week review (go over diary cards)
Read 1-2 new skills
Review skills, how and when to use them
20-minutes twice weekly:
5 minutes mindfulness
Read 1 new skill a week; on Monday learn the skill, on Thursday check in regarding use of the same skill and how and when to use it
5. Support Matters
DBT in-person has a group format and as you DIY this, you might feel all alone in this journey, have questions or feel lost as DBT is really different from other things you have tried. Social media is super useful and can also be anonymous, plus free is great! I make no promises about all the posts from online profiles, but here is who I follow and find supportive:
Twitter: #BPDchat is wonderful and well used, especially when a group logs in Sunday evening with a topic. It's a great way to find people for support.
Online resources: DBT Self help, hands down is the best resource for DBT information, including worksheets and it delves deep into every skill.
6. Get a Journal
DBT is about using skills, not memorizing and it's also purposefully repetitive and has so many worksheets! It is useful to get a journal, or have some organized space to file some of this away and yet keep it close by when you need it. Some students find it helpful to journal their experiences, struggles, and successes.
7. Be Gentle on Yourself
This is so new to you and doing it alone even with support isn't always easy. Take it slow, don't overwhelm yourself with doing too much too fast, and give yourself some space to do non-DBT things.
8. Don't Make DBT Your Only Resource
DBT is great. I have been teaching it for six-years and I continue to encourage students to see their therapist, take their meds as prescribed, and add DBT to their mental health plan. But DBT isn't the only thing that works. DBT coping skills can change lives, and so does medication, talk therapy, yoga, meeting up with supportive friends and taking your dog on a walk.
9. Still Need Help? (it's ok!)
Tried these tips and still staring at your book or writing in your journal that you are feeling lost?
In person clinic DBT: If you can make it to an in person DBT class that may help you learn DBT, meet people in a similar struggle and get structure in your learning. Nifty map of providers here.
Online DBT: I do teach DBT on Udemy- full list here
DBT Skills Coaching: Can also be useful in gaining structure and also sorting out what skills work best for you and how to use them. More details on what is it here and my coaching details are on my website.
10. Give Yourself Credit
This isn't an easy task and DBT is a "meaty" thing to learn on your own. Recovery isn't a linear path and that is okay.