DBT: Not Just for Clients

As mental health professionals, sometimes you literally face life-and-death issues. Leading Edge Seminars presenter Sheri Van Dijk writes about how crucial self-care can be when grieving the loss of a client due to suicide and how DBT skills can be used:

In my trainings and in my work with clients I regularly talk about the fact that I use DBT skills myself. This is important on a number of levels.  First, I think it goes a long way for my clients to know that I practice what I teach: it builds trust and rapport, and allows my clients to see that I can relate to the problems and difficulties they experience in trying to learn and practice skills.

But perhaps more important, using DBT skills helps me to live a healthier life (both personally and professionally). We all face difficult situations at times (one of the DBT tenets is that even a life worth living still has pain in it) and I’ve found that when I use DBT skills – sometimes unconsciously, and sometimes with a whole lot of effort – I’m usually able to get to a place where I can act more skillfully and my suffering decreases.

Recently in a webinar I received some valuable feedback from another clinician about something I shared regarding my experience of losing a client to suicide. I’ve decided to take her suggestion and share a little about that here, in the hopes that this will help other professionals in similar situations. Hopefully you won’t have to go through that experience yourself, but it’s also, I think, a good example of how DBT skills have helped me.

After many years of working with this particular client in individual treatment, and at least two years of her experiencing extreme suicidal thoughts and urges, this client took her own life. Never having experienced this before, I went through what I see many of my clients go through: being unsure of what I “should” be feeling; judging myself for some of the feelings I was experiencing; judging myself as a “bad” therapist; and going over and over in my head what I should have done differently. I also saw that my feelings of shame were causing me to isolate myself.

So, as best as I could, I drew on my skills as I never have before. I validated all of my feelings. I acted opposite to the emotions that were causing me to hide and I sought support from the people in my life whom I knew would be understanding and who would not judge me for my thoughts and feelings (but who also wouldn’t tell me I “shouldn’t” feel guilt or shame, for example). I increased my self-care, channelling more energy into my passion for scuba diving and travel; I practiced mindfulness, bringing myself back to the present time and again and doing my best to not judge. And I practiced turning my mind back to radical acceptance, over and over and over again. Gradually, I got back to myself again. I found my love for the work again. My anxiety slowly decreased and I found myself willing to work with the clients who need DBT the most once again.

And now here I am, listening to my wise mind as I share a tiny bit about this experience at the suggestion of a stranger, who found some of my words hopeful, choosing to put myself out there in a very vulnerable way. I hope that you’ll read this and see the value in DBT not just for our clients, but for ourselves.

I hope you’ll join me in Toronto as I present Calming the Emotional Storm: Helping Clients Manage Their Emotions with DBT on May 9 – 10 and DBT: Beyond the Basics on May 11