Many current approaches to mental health treatment focus on changing distressing events and circumstances. They have paid little attention to accepting, finding meaning for, and tolerating distress. This task has generally been tackled by psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, gestalt, or narrative therapies, along with religious and spiritual communities and leaders. Dialectical behavior therapy emphasizes learning to bear pain skillfully.
Distress tolerance skills constitute a natural development from DBT mindfulness skills. They have to do with the ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and nonjudgmental fashion, both oneself and the current situation. Since this is a nonjudgmental stance, this means that it is not one of approval or resignation. The goal is to become capable of calmly recognizing negative situations and their impact, rather than becoming overwhelmed or hiding from them. This allows individuals to make wise decisions about whether and how to take action, rather than falling into the intense, desperate, and often destructive emotional reactions that are part of borderline personality disorder.
Skills within the Distress tolerance module
- Distract with ACCEPTS
- This is a skill used to distract oneself temporarily from unpleasant emotions. The acronym breaks into:
- Activities: Use positive activities that you enjoy.
- Contribute: Help out others or your community.
- Comparisons: Compare yourself either to people that are less fortunate or to how you used to be when you were in a worse state.
- Emotions (other): cause yourself to feel something different by provoking your sense of humor or happiness with corresponding activities.
- Push away: Put your situation on the back-burner for a while. Put something else temporarily first in your mind.
- Thoughts (other): Force your mind to think about something else.
- Sensations (other) – Do something that has an intense feeling other than what you are feeling, like a cold shower or a spicy candy.
- Self Soothe
- This is a skill in which one behaves in a comforting, nurturing, kind, and gentle way to oneself. You use it by doing something that is soothing to you. It is used in moments of distress or agitation.
- IMPROVE the Moment
- This skill is used in moments of distress to help one relax. The acronym stands for:
- Imagery: Imagine relaxing scenes, things going well, or other things that please you.
- Meaning: Find some purpose or meaning in what you are feeling.
- Prayer: Either pray to whomever you worship or if not religious, chant a personal mantra.
- Relaxation: Relax your muscles, breathe deeply; use with Self Soothing.
- One thing in the moment: Focus your entire attention on what you are doing right now. Keep yourself in the present.
- Vacation (brief): Take a break from it all for a short period of time.
- Encouragement: Cheer-lead yourself. Tell yourself you can make it through this.
- Pros and Cons
- Think about the positive and negative things about not tolerating distress.
- Radical Acceptance
- Letting go of fighting reality. Accept your situation for what it is.
- Turning the Mind
- Turn your mind towards an acceptance stance. It should be used with Radical Acceptance.
- Willingness vs. Willfulness
- Being willing and open to do what is effective. Let go of a willful stance which goes against acceptance. Keep your eye on the goal in front of you