By: Carol Briggs, Clinical Intern
2020 started out pretty good for me. I was excited about looking for an internship, I had plans to travel in April, and my self-care was mostly consistent. Then mid-March hit. I lost my job, my partner was laid off, and classes went online. At first, I looked for ways to help and volunteered for the Community Response Team organized in my neighborhood. Doing so helped keep me positive in the beginning months of the pandemic. As 2020 trudged on though, anxiety and uncertainty started to be more consistent than my self-care. The end of July, I started a new job and in August I started my internship. There was so much excitement, but also a lot of stress and sadness that this phase of my education wasn’t going to look like I had planned. 2020 has looked nothing like any of us had planned.
I’m grateful though. I have an amazing, supportive partner. My cohort is motivating and supportive too. Our professors have been compassionate, flexible, and continuously created space for us to express the difficult emotions that have accompanied 2020. I know people who have lost so much this year, including loved ones. I’m grateful that I haven’t experienced that level of loss this year.
My internship experience has been equally supportive. It has been a place that facilitates growth and learning. It has encouraged me to challenge my self-doubt and lean into the discomfort that often comes with growth. And it has provided the opportunity to become familiar with dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT was originally developed to assist individuals with suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors. As I’ve learned more about this mode of therapy, I would argue that everyone can benefit from some of the basic concepts in DBT. I’ve benefited from utilizing things like acceptance, mindfulness, and distress tolerance in 2020.
- Acceptance- DBT highlights that the reality of a situation doesn’t change when we resist it. DBT teaches not only acceptance of our situations, but self-acceptance and self-compassion. When classes went online, I caught myself focusing on how much I didn’t want it to be that way. Once I accepted how things were going to be, I could move forward with a plan to make the best of it. DBT has helped me learn to be more accepting of myself and others, and to practice self-compassion. The world can always use more compassion and less judgement!
- Mindfulness- DBT emphasizes mindfulness and its ability to help us live in the moment. When things are uncertain, it’s easy to let our minds conjure up infinite possibilities for the future or ruminate about the past. When this happens, we tend to focus on the negative versus the positive. This can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. 2020 has been full of uncertainties for all of us. I’ve found it helpful to practice mindfulness when my mind wants to predict the future or relive not so great parts of the past. Read this for more info on how to practice mindfulness: Mindfulness Exercises
- Distress Tolerance- DBT teaches the skills of distress tolerance. These can be used when we experience emotions that feel intolerable or too intense. This can often lead to impulsive actions that make the situation worse rather than better. While these techniques help us when we are in crisis, they can be equally helpful in managing general anxiety, or when we are feeling even slightly overwhelmed. Balancing grad school, an internship, and work during a pandemic is a little overwhelming at times. Using distress tolerance skills helps me manage stress and shift my focus to more pleasant thoughts and feelings.
You can read more about DBT here How DBT Works. If you feel like you or a loved one would benefit from learning DBT skills, Owens & Associates has therapists trained in teaching DBT skills either in individual or group settings. We currently have three DBT skills groups on Saturdays at our Lake in the Hills office. Members meet in person and via Zoom. For more information call 847.854.4333 or for group information, contact one of the group leaders below.