DBT & Tools For Life Change

As you walk the recovery journey, few things become as important as the space between acceptance and change—concepts central to the DBT healing modality. Without acceptance, we continue to waste countless energy spinning our wheels and raging against any slight injustice we feel or weakness we see. Without change, we become stuck, immobile, perhaps unable to visualize a different future for ourselves, and certainly unable to take steps toward it. 

These concepts are vital components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)—a treatment approach we use here at The Haven as we help individuals renew to their best selves. The word “dialectical” can be thought of as the space between these two opposing forces: acceptance and change, and between many pairs of seeming opposites. To move through life successfully, we need balance. We need to believe that we have control, and we need to learn when the more helpful choice is to let it go. 

Understanding the Location of my Control

Another concept in psychology proposed by Psychologist Julian Rotter (1966) is helpful to this discussion. Not only do we need balance between acceptance and change, we also benefit from understanding where our control lives. Rotter explains that our Location or Locus of control is either internal or external and that how we experience this sense of control affects our feelings, behaviors, self-esteem, and overall sense of well-being.

According to Rotter, people who maintain an Internal Locus of Control have less anxiety, feel happier, and are less dependent on other people to make them feel good about themselves. These individuals have a well-developed sense of self-esteem and believe that they are in control of their life’s destiny. Consequently, they believe that others have a responsibility to do the same, and do not seek to control anything or anyone else. They tend to feel very much in control of their own lives.

Conversely, he describes people who maintain an External Locus of Control as anxious, less happy, and often dependent on the behaviors and reactions of others to ‘make’ them feel good about themselves. Since they perceive external influences as being in control of their lives, they tend to have low self-esteem, feel a need to control everything and everyone around them.

Learning that you have the power inside of you to change your reality can be incredibly empowering. Too often we see ourselves as the victim of fate rather than the shaper of our own destiny. 

DBT Tools for Life Change

Learning to harness the tools that Dialectical Behavior Therapy can offer is a powerful step in transferring your locus of control back to where it belongs. DBT is powerful in that not only will your therapist meet you with acceptance and lead you to find this for yourself, you will also find concrete tools to make a change in your life, and certainly a change in your experience of this present moment. 

The following are the four main focuses of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and some of the skills you can use to feel more centered, capable, and empowered in this moment. 

Mindfulness –

This skill involves the practice of being fully aware and present in the moment.

What Skills

Observe– to simply notice

Describe-to put language to your experience

Participate– to enter into the present moment

How Skills

One mindfully– to be in the moment

Non-judgmentally– to stay grounded in the facts, not feelings

Effectively– to focus on what works

Distress Tolerance –

This skill teaches you how to tolerate pain in difficult situations, not wasting energy trying to change it.

Focus on your five senses – Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

TIPP – Tip the Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation.

STOPStop, Take a Step Back, Observe, Proceed Mindfully

Emotional Regulation –

This skill reviews how to change emotions that you want to change.

Opposite action – Pause and identify what you are feeling in the moment (here’s a Feeling Wheel if that is difficult for you). If you feel nervous and want to vent your anxious thoughts, engage in some time to be quiet and reflective of what’s happening in your mind and body.

Interpersonal Relationships –

This skill focuses on your external relationships, how to ask for what you want and say no while maintaining self-respect and relationships with others.


Gentle – Show up with quietness. Do not attack, threaten, or place judgments.

Interest – Show your interest by using active listening skills

Validate – Recognize the other’s person thoughts/feelings

Easy – Maintain a light mood; remember that understanding can be easy.

If you would like to learn more about DBT or our other healing modalities, explore our website or give us a call to speak with one of our friendly admissions representatives!

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