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DBT and Me

by Becca Willson 3 years ago in therapy
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Wise Mind

Photo by Lorenzo Nucci found on

I’m currently participating in a weekly DBT group and we’re on the subject of how to use the Wise Mind skill. As I understand it, the wise mind skill is about bringing together rational thinking with emotional thinking. It’s kind of a right brain meets left brain scenario.

I’ve written a little story to illustrate my understanding of what this skill looks like:

Meet Janet. Janet is a single mother with three elementary school age children. Life is very stressful for poor Janet but she manages to make it all work and stays positive most of the time. Sometimes though, it all becomes too much and Janet, in her frustrated and overwhelmed state, makes a decision using only her emotional mind. This always makes the situation worse.

Take last Tuesday, for example. She had dropped the kids off at school 10 minutes late because her youngest, Susie, decided she was too sick to go to school. Coincidentally, the day before, her kindergarten teacher had read the class Shell Silverstein’s poem Sick from Where the Sidewalk Ends. You know, the one where Peggy Ann McKay says she can’t go to school because she has the measles and the mumps, among many other horrible ailments. Then, when she finds out it’s Saturday she’s miraculously healed and runs off to play. Anyway, it had caused quite the power struggle but Janet had managed to stay calm, even knowing she was going to be yelled at, again, for being late to work.

Once at work Janet breathed in the wonderful smells coming from the break room and suddenly remembered she was supposed to bring her famous Texas chili as her contribution to this month's potluck; it was still cooking on high in the crockpot at home. Janet wanted to run to the bathroom and cry. It had been a miserable week already and it looked like the trend would continue.

At this point, Janet had a decision to make. Should she just leave the chili to burn and hope it doesn’t cause a fire? Or maybe she should run home immediately and call in sick? She knew this would be a desperate move but she was feeling pretty desperate! Her boss hadn’t spotted her yet, after all, and she could have really used a mental health day! Would her fellow coworkers rat her out, though?

But that idea quickly melted as she saw her boss round the corner. He immediately gave her his worst ‘I can’t believe you’re late Again’ stare!

“Janet,” came his disapproving voice, “what’s your lousy excuse this time?”

At that point, Janet’s rational thoughts ceased to exist. That one comment threw her into a fight or flight state. She choose flight and simply left without comment.

*This is not the example of the wise mind skill. Surprise!

Our example comes from what Janet decided after she got home to her already burnt chili. Janet, like me, was studying the wise mind skill. Once she calmed herself with some chamomile tea she could see that she had made things worse by walking out. Now what?

Enter wise mind:

Janet could follow her emotional mind’s idea a of letting that job go! They don’t deserve her anyway!

Or, Janet could follow her rational mind’s idea of going back immediately and begging forgiveness. She needs this job to survive and provide for her kids.

Janet decided to practice using her wide mind instead. After calling work and letting them know she’d be back in later that day, Janet sat down to write out a DEAR MAN.

What’s that? Well, we’re not there yet in group so I’ll save it for another article.

However, to wrap up the wise mind example, I will tell you that Janet decided to go back into work and talk to her boss honestly, letting him know that she’s doing the best she can as a single mother; she’s very grateful for the opportunity this company is giving her; and she needs to feel mutual respect in order to do her best work. She will also promise to come up with a better plan for getting ready in the morning so that she’s on time to work from now on.

Please note that I’m simply a student of Marsha Lineman’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The example I give comes from my understanding of how this skill works.

However, I think it’s a good example because where the rational mind told Janet to do whatever’s necessary to keep her job, it completely ignored the emotional mind’s need to feel respected at work. If Janet had used only rational mind or only emotional mind to make her decision she would have made her situation worse. Rational mind would have helped her keep her job but she would have had to sacrifice her self-respect. Emotional mind would have put her at risk financially. Plus, she would likely end up with another job similar to the one she already had; especially since she wouldn’t be able to take the time to search for a better job. She’d end up taking whatever job she could find fastest.

The Wise Mind skill can be used to make decisions as extreme as Janet’s was or as simple as choosing how closely to follow that new diet you’re on. And, like any skill, it becomes easier and more automatic the more it’s practiced.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading. Go have an amazing and wise minded day!


About the author

Becca Willson

I am a writer and mindfulness meditation teacher trying to forge a new path in life as I learn to love, grow and share all I know along the way!

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