Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a cognitive-behavioral treatment developed in the 1980’s to treat people who experience extremely intense, negative emotion. DBT emerged from the philosophical perspective of dialectics: two seemingly opposite perspectives can be held at the same time. A common term used in DBT is “both-and,” as opposed to “either-or”. I learned about this theory in a class and it really helped me. It’s a simple way to reframe our negative thoughts and emotions into a concept that is easier to live with. Reframing to “both-and” helps us live with the tensions that we inevitably will feel in this life. It allows space for the distressing emotions and discovers a way to make space for them instead of ignoring them or letting them take over. One way to do this is to take out the “but” and replace it with “and.”
Here are a few examples:
I really care about my brother AND I feel frustrated when he doesn’t call me back. (Both things are true and accepting it doesn’t mean one thought is better or stronger than the other.)
I’m doing the best I can AND I know I can improve. (Allowing both statements to be true at the same time creates room to both accept where we are and push ourselves to continue to grow and mature.)
The Bible is full of dialectics! The most important one? We are sinners AND Jesus died for us! Both are equally true and hold equal space. We must accept that we are helpless sinners without hope, but we don’t stop with that thought. Equally true is that Jesus conquered death by dying for our sins and giving us the hope of eternity with him. Both-And.
God, everything feels upside down right now. Each day brings new information and new things to worry about and plan for. We’ve endured so much change in such a short time. Even though we don’t know what today will hold, may we take comfort in knowing that none of this surprises You. You know. You see. You understand. You grieve with us and for us. One day all will be made right, but until that day, may we figure out a way to trust You in the middle of the unknown. We love You.
Another example that comes to mind is when Jesus told the adulterous woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) In one statement Jesus both acknowledges that the woman has sinned AND that he does not condemn her.
This is comforting because life is hard and unpredictable, especially now in a worldwide pandemic. I find myself swinging between all sorts of different and opposite emotions. One day I love being home with my family, the next day I find myself resenting it. And that’s okay. It is possible to feel opposite things at the same time and for both to be true. Allowing ourselves the space to feel AND pushing ourselves to grow is the key. One of my favorite dialectics that Jesus spoke is found in John 16:33 and is a great reminder during these times: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But (And) take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Dana Timothy Peterson, PsyD Dr. Dana Peterson is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. A former active-duty Navy Clinical Psychologist, he is currently the Chief of a Well-Being Services organization for the Department of Defense, overseeing all mental health treatment,...
Carolyn Hunsicker, LCPC Carolyn Hunsicker is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and a National Board Certified Counselor (NCC) in both Maryland and South Carolina. She has completed Gottman couples counseling Level III. Prior to opening True View...
Cheryl Durgin Cheryl Durgin is a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as well as a trained facilitator of their family education program, and a licensed volunteer with the International Fellowship of Chaplains, ministering in areas of...