Turning the Mind in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Introduction to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive-behavioral treatment developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, originally for individuals with borderline personality disorder. Today, it’s recognized for its effectiveness in treating a range of emotional dysregulation issues. DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice.

The Concept of Turning the Mind in DBT

Understanding “Turning the Mind”

At its core, “Turning the Mind” is a DBT skill that involves a commitment to accept reality as it is and move towards a more adaptive and emotionally regulated life. It’s the decision point where an individual consciously chooses to orient themselves toward acceptance and away from denial or avoidance of the difficult aspects of their reality.

The Role of Turning the Mind in DBT

This concept is a pivotal moment in DBT, acting as a bridge between the distress tolerance and acceptance skills and the change-oriented strategies. Without this fundamental decision to turn towards acceptance, individuals may find themselves stuck, unable to effectively apply the other DBT skills they learn.

The Significance of Commitment

“Turning the Mind” requires a commitment, which is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. It involves continually reorienting oneself toward acceptance whenever the mind drifts back to denial or avoidance.

Core Components of Turning the Mind

Mindfulness and the Wise Mind

Mindfulness, a cornerstone of DBT, teaches individuals to be present in the moment and to operate from a “wise mind,” which balances emotional and rational thoughts to make well-considered decisions.

Distress tolerance strategies

These strategies equip individuals to manage crises and accept life’s pains without resorting to destructive behaviors. “Turning the Mind” is vital for the application of these strategies, as it anchors one’s commitment to endure distress without exacerbating it.

Acceptance and change

DBT posits that effective change can only occur when there is acceptance of what is. “Turning the Mind” is the crucial step where individuals learn to accept before they attempt to change.

turning the mind dbt
turning the mind dbt

Skills and Exercises for Turning the Mind

Mindfulness Practices

Practices such as focused breathing, sensory grounding, and nonjudgmental observation help cultivate mindfulness, which facilitates the ability to “turn the mind.”

Willingness vs. willfulness

DBT distinguishes between being willing to experience things as they are and being willful or resistant to reality. Exercises that focus on recognizing and increasing willingness are key.

Radical Acceptance

This skill involves wholeheartedly accepting reality, including the painful aspects of it. Exercises designed to challenge and let go of self-defeating beliefs support this process.

Pros and cons of coping behaviors

Individuals are encouraged to weigh the short-term and long-term advantages and disadvantages of their coping behaviors, which often underlines the necessity of “turning the mind” towards healthier strategies.

Application of Turning the Mind in Daily Life

Recognizing Choice Points

Daily life presents numerous “choice points” where one can choose to turn towards acceptance or away from it. DBT encourages active recognition and engagement with these points.

Committing to Effective Action

Once the mind is turned, individuals learn to commit to actions that align with their values and move them toward their goals, despite emotional pain.

Facing Obstacles: Resistance and Resilience

DBT acknowledges that resistance is a natural part of this process. Building resilience through “Turning the Mind” helps individuals persist in their journey.

Turning the Mind in Crisis Situations

In times of crisis, the skill of “turning the mind” becomes especially critical. It helps in navigating intense emotions and deploying crisis survival strategies effectively.

Integrating Turning the Mind with Other DBT Skills

The ability to “turn the mind” complements and enhances the effectiveness of other DBT skills, from interpersonal effectiveness to emotion regulation.


“Turning the Mind” is a transformative skill within DBT, embodying the dialectical process of balancing acceptance and change. It is not just a skill but a philosophy of life that emphasizes the power of choice and the capacity for growth. As individuals practice “Turning the Mind,” they develop the resilience to navigate life’s challenges with grace and determination.

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