• Sarah Murphy, LCSW

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, LeBron James and Steph Curry

September 4th, 2019                                              By Sarah McIsaac Murphy, MSW

September 4th, 2019                                              By Sarah McIsaac Murphy, MSW

What the heck is DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY? DBT is like a game or sport which utilizes skills that propel players through life with greater capacity for confidence, compassion and equanimity. The skills - emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness - make us more versatile and resilient players. They enable us to learn the truth about our inner critic, a voice we all know. Like the Wizard of Oz, the inner critic is disguised in boldness and power. But when the curtain is yanked, the truth is revealed and we see that the wizard is small, meek, and mortal, like our inner critic.

The inner critic is like a bully who’s outgrown his/her power and is no match for our team: Think of a “dream team” of basketball players: Steph Curry (mindfulness) Bill Russell (distress tolerance), Michael Jordan (emotion regulation) and LeBron James (interpersonal effectiveness). With great coaching from Cheryl Miller, this dream team crushes the bully’s shenanigans and leads us to our truest self and our strongest voice. The bully had no idea players like this existed, and we feel as happy as LeBron James on the day he won his first NBA Championship Trophy.

Like a good sweat, a good sleep or good, you know what, practicing DBT skills leave us feeling more alive, hopeful and present. The four skills are not new ideas but are packaged in a user friendly way. To continue the basketball analogy, these psychological skills are like the four core skills of basketball - shooting, dribbling, passing and rebounding. Our dream team uses them to excel and create their respective forms of greatness. We, too, can create our version of greatness.

Mindfulness Skills - We learn to be awake and alive in the moment and to refrain from judgement or criticism of ourselves, others and the moment. We become skilled at identifying the voice of the inner critic and its tendency to ruminate, practice judgement and comparison. We develop a healthy defense from the fictitious voice which spreads discouragement, low mood and anxiety. We learn to practice a kinder voice and by doing so we enhance resilience and peace of mind.

Distress Tolerance - We learn how to pause, to practice restraint of tongue and pen and to manage impulsivity. We learn how to NOT make an already difficult situation, worse. We learn to use healthy distractions when distressed and to use skills like STOP - stop, take a break, observe and proceed mindfully - when we know neither acting out nor imagining catastrophe will help. We learn to stay the course, ride out the storm and remember that life delivers a range of weather.

Emotion Regulation - We learn how to identify emotions before they feel unruly or overwhelming. We learn about the myths of emotions ie. Being emotional is unprofessional or Being emotional is weak etc. We also learn how to change emotional patterns and notice triggers which signal rote or reactionary responses so we can remain open minded and teachable. We become better at recognizing what is actually happening vs. what we feel should be happening or what we want to be happening. In other words, we learn to find a balance between what we can change and what we can’t. We learn to practice living in Wise Mind, the space between Emotion Mind and Rational Mind.

Interpersonal Effectiveness - We learn to identify our wants and needs and to communicate them graciously, without apology or anger. We learn to prioritize what needs to be said when and/or whether it is our turn to listen or to share. We learn to notice the role judgement plays in our communication and how to extract it because 9/10 times it weakens effective communication. We also learn we don’t have to attend every fight we’re invited to :)

I was introduced to the skills through a twenty year old college sophomore in April 2015 who said,“ I left school last Fall because I was depressed. My parents divorced, I broke up with my girlfriend and my 12 year old golden died. I was devastated. Learning the skills during break was a game changer. They helped me take action( when I didn’t want to do anything), helped me to figure out what I really valued and how much better life felt when I stuck to what I believed in - decency, education, compassion etc. I learned the skills in a class with people from a wide range of backgrounds and we quickly saw how similar our thinking was - nearly identical. We shared automatic self judgement and comparison and treated our judgements as fact. We got perspective. We realized social media had trained us to believe we didn’t measure up, weren’t as successful as our friends and that we needed more -- of everything -- when we didn’t. Sarah, the skills helped me more than anything and I know they’ll help others. Would you be willing to learn about DBT and start a class ?”

How could I say no? We decided to rename our version of DBT,  Doing Beautifully Today. Steph C, Bill R, Michael J, Cheryl M and LeBron agreed to the change.


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