Mental Health Blog

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Part 2

Posted by Sarah Carter on

As previously discussed, DBT can have a deep impact on many areas of our lives. In addition to helping us be more mindful and present, it can help us to communicate our needs and set healthy boundaries. Along with those skills, emotional regulation and distress tolerance are also major pillars of this type of therapy. Emotional regulation is the ability to decrease the intensity of the emotions or moods that we are feeling. Distress tolerance, on the other hand, is the ability to tolerate intense situations as they arise. These two facets are similar, and overlap at times, but the main difference is that emotional regulation has the goal of making a change to what is felt whereas distress tolerance is more focused on surviving the situation even if nothing changes.

Emotional regulation is a necessary skill set, yet not everyone is taught it when they are young. Often, parents do not know these skills themselves and struggle to teach them to their children. Emotional regulation teaches us to check the facts around what we are feeling. Some questions we can ask are:

  • What am I feeling?
  • What triggered this emotion?
  • Does my emotion match the facts of the scenario?
  • If not, am I making assumptions that are intensifying my emotion?
  • Now that I’ve brought awareness to my emotion, how can it be calmed?

There are lots of ways of working through our emotions and decreasing how intense they feel, but the process usually needs to start with an awareness, acceptance, and understanding of what we feel. After that, we can work on releasing that emotion using breathing, meditation, grounding techniques, or emotional expression. Some people express emotion through journaling, art, or talking to a trusted friend. Giving our emotions space to be understood and calmed can be empowering; it allows us to feel in control of what is happening.

Distress tolerance also helps us to feel more in control when the situations around us, or the emotions inside us, feel uncontrollable. One skill is the idea of activating your senses. If your anxiety is skyrocketing and you cannot calm it down, you can use a weighted blanket or hot bath as tactile sensory stimulation. This alternate sensory input can help your brain attune to another feeling and lessen the impact of the anxiety. Another part of distress tolerance is accepting things that are outside of your control. If you did not get into your top choice of colleges, you can ruminate on why that happened for weeks, or you can accept that they chose other candidates and focus on what is within your control, namely the other college or career options. While these skills do not magically fix the scenarios around us, they can give us ways of coping with our emotions and lighten the loads we are carrying.

If you feel like the skills mentioned here could be helpful, you may benefit from incorporating DBT into the therapy you are pursuing or considering.


Sarah Carter is a Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor #6982.  She is supervised by Lisa Lewis, LMFT# 112889.


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