The Power of Naming in DBT

May 1, 2024
# min read

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches various skills using easy-to-remember names and acronyms. You’ve probably heard of a few, like Wise Mind or DEAR MAN, and may be wondering whether these names really matter. Are they just a gimmick, or does the very act of naming these skills increase their power and accessibility? While this might seem simple, these names are actually the key to applying these skills in real life.

When you learn a new word and start hearing it everywhere, it's surprising—was it always around, and you just didn't notice? The same happens with DBT skills. Once you learn a skill and its name, you begin to see opportunities to use it all the time.

If You Name It, You'll Remember It

When we face tough or emotional moments, it's hard to remember the steps we've learned to handle them. This is where naming each skill with a simple name or acronym helps. DBT makes it easy to remember and use these tools when you really need them.

For example, the "STOP" skill stands for "Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed mindfully." It's an easy way to remember the steps to manage difficult feelings or impulses. The name itself reminds you what to do next, making it more likely you'll use the skill in tough times.

The "DEAR MAN" skill, which helps with clear communication, stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear confident, and Negotiate. By putting these important elements into a memorable name, DBT makes it easier to remember and use the skill effectively.

Naming skills in DBT does more than make them easy to remember; it also helps people feel understood and gives them a common language to talk about their challenges.

More Than Just Practice: Being Mindful About Our Skills

"It's not just about practicing the skill; it's also about being more mindful and aware of how we use it," says Dr. Jesse Finkelstein, Co-Founder of TheraHive. By being more thoughtful about how we use DBT skills, we can strengthen them in our lives. Plus, we can keep track of how well they work for us, adjusting as needed. 

For instance, if someone uses the "STOP" skill during a stressful meeting, reflecting afterward on how it helped manage their response can reinforce the benefit of this skill, making it more likely they'll use it again in similar situations. This kind of reflection turns a simple practice into a powerful tool for personal growth.

Moreover, tracking how these skills impact our lives provides invaluable feedback. It's not just about noting that we used a skill, but evaluating the outcome. Did it help reduce stress? Did it improve communication? This monitoring helps identify which skills are most effective in different scenarios and which might need more practice or adjustment.


Real-World Examples

Let's take real-world situations to show how these skills work:

  • STOP in Action: Imagine you're in a heated argument with a friend. Instead of reacting quickly, you use "STOP." You pause, step back from the argument, observe your feelings, and then choose how to respond thoughtfully. This prevents the situation from getting worse and helps you handle it better. some text
    • Pro Tip: You might even use the skill in your conversation by saying “Hey, I feel like this conversation got heated really quickly! Can we take a step back for a moment before we proceed?”
  • DEAR MAN at Work: You need to ask your boss for a day off but feel nervous. Using "DEAR MAN," you clearly describe your request, express your need sincerely, and confidently assert your case. This approach not only makes it more likely you'll get the day off but also strengthens your communication skills. some text
    • Pro Tip: bring a brief written outline of your DEAR to your conversation to help you stay on track!

How we Incorporate Naming in TheraHive Courses

In the TheraHive DBT skills program, live group sessions are a key part where students really get to see the power of naming skills in action. Coaches who are trained in DBT show students how to spot and name skills as they happen, right in the session. This on-the-spot naming is important because it shows students how to be more aware of using skills correctly as situations unfold.

As students move forward in the program, they start to pick up this naming skill. They learn how to identify and name the skills that are at work behind their thoughts, feelings, and actions. This growing self-awareness is a big deal—it helps students make smarter decisions in their everyday lives. Seeing the good results from using their skills well helps keep students motivated. It encourages them to keep practicing and improving their DBT skills.

This act of naming and recognizing skills turns into a kind of "name game" for the students, a fun but serious way to help them grow. Making the naming of skills a group activity and a common language helps students not just learn the skills but really weave them into their lives in a deep and lasting way.

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