Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) mindfulness activities range depending on a variety of factors. This therapy is a modified version of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based theory used by mental healthcare providers.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based on the theory that thoughts and behaviors have an influence over an individual’s emotions and by altering how a person thinks about or approaches varying situations in their life, the better off they will be. There are many techniques and applications of this practice in the field, with “CBT” being a generalized term for all of them.
DBT is similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the sense that they both aim to address how an individual approaches situations and experiences to result in a positive outcome. DBT deviates from CBT by being more specific in its approach toward that different perspective. DBT mindfulness activities aim to help individuals thrive in the moment, cope with stress/trauma in a healthy way, and learn to self-regulate their own thoughts and emotions.
Below, therapists can find a list of the most common DBT mindfulness activities used in the field today.
DBT Mindfulness Activities:
- Observe an Object in Detail
Sometimes clients facing large amounts of anxiety do not always have the skills and knowledge to calm themselves down. Learning how to self-regulate is a huge component of many DBT mindfulness activities. A great technique to teach a client is to observe an object in great detail. If they feel an abundance of anxiety approaching and they want to calm themselves down, tell them to pick an object in the room and describe every single noticeable feature of that object. The hope of this DBT mindfulness activity is that the client will turn their focus and attention to the object and away from whatever it is that is triggering them.
- Mindful Eating
In the same vein as the last DBT mindfulness activity, try instructing your client to eat mindfully. This exercise focuses on slowing down one’s processes taking place in the mind by slowing the rate at which one consumes food. This exercise can also be useful for clients that are battling with eating too quickly during emotional moments. Instruct the client to take whatever snack or meal they plan to eat and really focus on each bite. Instruct them to ask questions like “how does it taste?” “What is the texture?” and other questions that draw their attention to the experience and slow them down.
- Mindful Walking
Mindful walking is a form of meditation that helps return a person to the here and now rather than being stuck in other situations that might have occurred in the past. This DBT mindfulness technique is accessible to those with free time during their workday or in the mornings and afternoons before and after a stressful day might take place. Therapists should instruct their clients to start walking outside at a natural pace and with their hands in a comfortable position then focus their attention on specific details of their walks. Some clients might find it more therapeutic to count their steps in sets or try and keep count of how many birds they see. Other clients might find it more helpful to pay attention to their senses, noticing how the air feels on their skin or even the smells they experience as they progress.
- Breathing Techniques
For clients facing anxiety, learning how to control their breathing is an incredibly valuable skill. Anxiety attacks can feel like the inability to control one’s breathing or regulate one’s emotions. The teaching of breathing techniques like box breathing or 4-7-8 breathing can enable an individual to regulate themselves and prevent an anxiety attack from escalating or calm themselves down if it already has.
- Listen to Music
Some clients may find music to be an effective tool for distancing themselves from their anxiety and instead, be present in the moment. This DBT mindfulness technique can be a great way to reduce stress and stay connected to one’s self. Music can be a great way to experience the present moment whether it be in a concert setting or even just with headphones in.
- Phone Apps
For clients that might benefit from the use of an app, there are luckily dozens of DBT mindfulness activity apps on the market. These apps can be used as tools that the client can easily access to practice their DBT skills anywhere and at any time. Some of the most commonly used apps can be found by going into the app store on a phone and searching “mindfulness.” Popular apps include Calm and Mindshift.
- Body Scan
A body scan is similar to the other DBT mindfulness activities in the sense that it aims to connect an individual to their body and the present moment. Therapists should instruct their clients to “scan” their bodies from head to toe. They should start with their mind in the head, slowly move their thoughts to their eyes and what they are seeing, their ears and what they are hearing, their hands and what they are feeling, their joints and how they are positioned, all the way down to their feet and if they are standing.
- Practice Empathy
DBT also aims to help an individual find peace and connection to the different relationships in their life. Some theories suggest that the practice of empathy enables an individual to gain a better understanding of those in their lives and then themselves as a result. Some techniques for practicing the DBT mindfulness include instructing the client to consider what will be lost or gained on both sides, practice verbal validation of the perspective of others, balances of give and take, and more.
These DBT mindfulness activities are a great starting point for any client that feels disconnected from themselves, might be struggling with anxiety and self-regulation, or wishes to feel more connected to the relationships that exist in their life.
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