What I learned from Dr. Marsha Linehan: To change ourselves, we have to accept ourselves.

To change ourselves, we first have to accept ourselves

REAL CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.

This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a 2-day training workshop by one of my all-time favourite psychologists and gurus, Dr. Marsha Linehan. Marsha is a pretty remarkable woman. In case you don’t know who she is, she is the pioneer and founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). DBT is all about building a life worth living and reducing suffering. It aims to find the synthesis of opposites. It embraces the idea that real change is possible, but that to create real change we first need to find the synthesis between acceptance and change. DBT affirms that everything is always changing, that truth evolves over time, and that everything is connected, ultimately. To change ourselves, we first have to accept ourselves; and likewise, to help change others, we first have to accept them!

Attending the workshop and meeting Marsha was such an amazing opportunity for me as a psychologist. A highlight was when she signed my copy of her DBT Skills Training Manual. I didn’t say much to her, just a simple “thank you”, to express my gratitude. She stopped writing to turn and smile and say, “You’re welcome”. It was definitely a major career highlight and fan-girl moment for me!

Sit back and let your mind figure it out.

SIT BACK AND LET YOUR MIND FIGURE IT OUT.

One of the first things I took down in my 20+ pages of written notes was something Marsha said right at the beginning of day one: “sit back and let your mind figure it out”. She was referring to being in a counselling session with a client, and giving yourself the permission to pause and reflect before responding. One of the biggest mistakes we make when communicating with others is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply. Marsha was saying that therapists should allow themselves the time to tap into their ability to figure things out first, to trust and to listen to their intuition. I liked that idea quite a lot, and I don’t think it just applies to therapists. So often, we get caught up in the chaos of the moment, processing a million things at once, the voice of our intuition is drowned out and we forget to sit back and figure it all out. So that was a major epiphany for me.

There can be more that can be known than what can be known from the senses

THERE CAN BE MORE THAT CAN BE KNOWN THAN WHAT CAN BE KNOWN FROM THE SENSES.

At end of day one, Marsha talked a little bit about her own personal journey and about spirituality… Marsha defines herself as a “Catholic Zen Master”, whatever that even means! I liked that she spoke about spirituality, because it’s often completely ignored by other prominent psychologists in the field. Spirituality is a really important area of life and one of my key research interests. I wrote my Master’s thesis on the role of spirituality in facilitating vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training. Marsha said, “there can be more that can be known than what can be known from the senses”, and that experiencing a sense of connection and “oneness” would lead to a sense of freedom and contentment. Marsha emphasised that freedom beats joy. Joy, realistically, is a temporarily emotion, while contentment and freedom can be ongoing. Marsha suggested using Mindfulness as the pathway toward finding more of these moments of oneness and connection with ourselves, and the world around us.Everything is being impacted by everything it’s connected to.

EVERYTHING IS IMPACTED BY EVERYTHING IT’S CONNECTED TO.

Marsha also talked about how change is transactional, and that everything is being impacted by everything it’s connected to. We often assume that all behaviour is chosen and deliberate and often it is simply automatic. Many problem behaviours are a result of a causal pattern or chain. Just stop for a minute and think about that…. It completely obliterates the concept of blame. If all behaviour is caused, how can we ever blame anyone for anything? We can’t! However, independent of what caused the problem, we do have to solve it! One way to do that is to give up judgment and the idea of “good and bad” and instead evaluate the consequences of behaviour – focus on what is effective and what works! Remember that there have to be consequences to behaviour for people to change. Being non-judgmental doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of it, either, it just means there’s a difference between thoughts and observations.

We are always learning and we are always doing the best we can (accept yourself).... AND, we can always do better (change yourself)!

YOU CAN ACCEPT YOURSELF, AND CHANGE YOURSELF.

The most important (and validating) reflection I walked away with from the 2-day workshop was that even Marsha (the guru herself) makes mistakes. During the workshop they showed a few videos of Marsha’s therapy sessions and it was extremely normalising to see that she wasn’t “the perfect therapist”. There is no such thing. If the woman who developed DBT and wrote multiple books and manuals on it can stuff it up (and admit to stuffing it up) then it’s most certainly ok for me to stuff it up. It all comes back to this very important dialectic: We are always learning and we are always doing the best we can (accept yourself)…. AND, we can always do better (change yourself)!

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