by Sarah Lebo, LPC, CADCI
One of the foundational ideas to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a worldview based in dialectics. This theme resonates with a lot of people, and can even enhance the ways we think about and interact with other people.
What is it and why is it a big deal? Mirriam-Webster defines it as a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth. In DBT, it embodies ideas of interrelatedness, opposition, and continuous change.
Reality is not static. It is complex, and often there are many simultaneous aspects occurring. If we can widen our lens to include the many different forces at work, we might learn something new.
Acceptance and Change
Even the act of entering into psychotherapy allows someone to simultaneously acknowledge two seemingly opposing ideas: acceptance and change.
It’s balancing the seemingly opposing forces of how I am now and how I want to be. Perhaps I’m troubled currently, and yet I have the potential to grow and change. I need on some level to accept where I’m at right now and tolerate that (which itself might be a change) while I’m figuring out how to move forward.
Identifying this inherent tug of war in our current situation can motivate us and, at times, unlock some of the insight that leads to real change. Because it’s tension that ultimately produces different results (think about the tension between positive and negative, good and bad, children and parents, person and environment, and so on).
Give and Take
This idea is also played out in the therapeutic relationship. Sometimes a therapist is validating and reflecting what I’m saying; other times he or she is confronting me or questioning the facts of what I’m saying. This back-and-forth allows us to meet in the middle. We are constantly working together to figure out “what is being left out of our understanding.”
It is an approach to engaging in dialogue so that movement can be made. In therapy, we have a safe space to explore opposition of contradictory positions, and arrive at new meanings within old meanings.
During that process, a therapist works to simultaneously support a person’s attempts at self-preservation and his or her attempts at self-transformation. This is the backdrop for the “a-ha!” moment—the process where we work to understand fully what’s going on and how things stand before we actually move toward change. Most people, most of the time, have difficulty accurately identifying the factors that control their behavior. Analysis (either on our own or with another’s help, as in the psychotherapy relationship) highlights patterns to promote understanding that leads to change.
The very process of analyzing is often a behavioral change for us! Yes, what we are going through is legitimate and difficult. There are other things going on as well, and many different alternatives to meeting the various needs in our lives.
Being open to this idea of balancing oppositional forces often unlocks the process of insight and eventual behavior change.
© Copyright 2014 by Sarah Lebo, LPC, CADCI, therapist in Portland, Oregon.
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