The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook Book Summary - The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook Book explained in key points
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The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook summary

Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood & Jeffrey Brantley

Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance

4.6 (72 ratings)
15 mins
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    The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook
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    Step one: Distress tolerance

    It’s a fact of life: bad things happen. But while you can’t always change your circumstances, you can change how you respond to them.

    When bad things happen, people with good emotion management skills know how to cope. They can breathe through the pain, or sit with their feelings. They can heal and repair.

    On the other hand, there are also those of us who struggle to manage the overwhelm of an emotional onslaught. We might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms: rage, drugs, self-harm. But not only does this hurt us – it also negatively impacts our relationships. 

    Take the case of Bryan and his wife, Kelly. Bryan had a habit of losing control during arguments with Kelly. He would say hateful things to her, and then drink away his feelings of anger and guilt at a bar. Needless to say, the relationship was suffering because of his behavior.

    But Bryan decided to put in the work, and learned some basic skills that helped him get through the arguments without causing harm – two of which are distraction and self-soothing.

    Distraction is a way to create space between you and the thing causing your distress without avoiding it altogether, which can result in more resentment and built-up tension. Once you’ve calmed down through your distraction, you can then go back and resolve whatever’s occurring.

    Let’s say Bryan is starting to get into an argument with Kelly. But instead of saying hurtful things, he says, “I’m going to go wash some dishes.” This is a productive distraction. It gets a chore done, and gives Bryan some time and space to calm down before talking to Kelly again.

    Other distractions include holding an ice cube, going for a run or doing some yoga, practicing a hobby, writing in your journal, and – last but not least – going somewhere private and having a good old cry.

    Self-soothing is another important distress management skill. This technique helps you comfort yourself so you can relax. Self-soothing is a sensual thing, meant to ground you with a comforting visual, smell, or feeling. For instance, you could light your favorite scented candle, look through a family photo book, listen to music, suck on a lollipop, or take a warm bath.

    These distress tolerance skills won’t make your stressful circumstances go away. But they will help you manage your emotions through this difficult time so that you don’t hurt yourself, or your relationships, in the heat of the moment.

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    What is The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook about?

    The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (2019) offers basic and advanced exercises to help people hone the four core emotional competencies. While it can be used alone, it’s also an excellent companion for anyone working with a therapist. 

    Who should read The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook?

    • Anyone currently in therapy
    • People interested in self-improvement 
    • Individuals struggling to manage their emotions

    About the Author

    Matthew McKay, PhD, is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA, where he focuses on the cognitive behavioral treatment of depression and anxiety. He’s written many books, including Self-Esteem, Thoughts and Feelings, When Anger Hurts, and ACT on Life Not on Anger.

    Jeffrey C. Wood, PsyD, is a life coach and psychologist who specializes in short therapy treatments for depression, anxiety, and trauma. Wood’s other writing credits include The New Happiness and The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Diary.

    Jeffrey Brantley, MD, is professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Duke University Medical Center, where he founded and directed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. He also wrote Calming Your Anxious Mind, and cowrote the Five Good Minutes(R) series.

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