Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Addiction

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been used to treat those struggling with addictions, self-harm and borderline personality disorder. Many clients in addiction rehabs battle all three. One common denominator in them is the struggle in handling intense emotions. Someone with borderline personality disorder may become angry and in the effort to calm themselves use drugs and alcohol to distract themselves. What DBT does is assist one in developing the skills necessary to ride the high’s and low’s of the human experience.

dialectical behavior therapy addiction

DBT works by helping people increase their emotional and mental awareness by learning about the triggers that lead to harm and helping to assess which coping skills to apply in a challenging scenario, as well as which behaviors to avoid. The therapy combines the practices of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness.

Like any therapy, there are various techniques the therapists introduces to the client to try. Many are created in order for the client to easily remember in times of stress. One tool is to describe an emotion through the five senses; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. For instance lets say you’re feeling angry, you would be asked to describe the sensations around the anger. Such as:

  • SIGHT – You see waterfall hitting a rock.
  • SMELL – You smell rain on wet cement.
  • SOUND – You hear air being blown into a brown paper bag.
  • TASTE – You taste stale peanuts.
  • TOUCH – You feel a smooth elevator door.

Now all of these descriptions may sound a bit random, but, like any therapy their gravity lies in the meaning attached to them. After putting all of these descriptions together you may discover that these sensations are symbols of DISCONNECTION.

  • SIGHT – The waterfall powerfully hits the rock, but does not penetrate it-disconnection.
  • SMELL –  The rain created to nourish the earth is wasted on the cement-disconnection.
  • SOUND – The humans air is not shared with another, it is held captive in a bag-disconnection.
  • TASTE – The peanuts that are created to nourish are stale and cannot be eaten-disconnection.
  • TOUCH – The powerful elevator which is used to transport people to be with one another is closed-disconnection.

When you’re able to find the meaning behind the symbols you can see where the emotion is coming from and how to best address it. As well, taking the time to distinguish senses allows one the time to calm down significantly. Slowing down, getting to the root of the problem and acting, not reacting can foster healthy actions that lead to positive outcomes.

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