What Is DBT and How I Use It as a Mother


I learned to practice Dialectical Behavioral Therapy from social workers at the University of Michigan in the group therapy setting. For five years I attended a group designed to teach pregnant women and new mothers the skills of DBT. DBT has become a part of my life as I raise my three young children.

First, an understanding of the word Dialectical is needed. A Dialectical is when you have two opposing ideas at the same time, and both ideas are valid. For instance, the idea that I love motherhood, and I hate motherhood. The ideas seem to contradict each other but are both valid and true statements of how I feel.

I love being a mother more than anything in my life.

It is who I am; it is why I breathe. Nonetheless, there are those “moments” of poop explosions and temper tantrums that we all hate. It is possible to feel two opposite emotions at the same time; our feelings are complex things. Moving in and out of emotions can be taught. So often in motherhood we are confronted with opposite emotions, especially those first few months when our hormones are adjusting. We can learn to “surf” the wave of our feelings as they come. DBT provides the tools to do this.

DBT is also very big on the idea of mindfulness, and that our minds have two sides: the emotional mind and the rational mind. Where the two overlap is the wise mind. We often get stuck in one side, either acting on our intense emotions like anger without first checking the facts, or only paying attention to the logical and losing touch with our feelings. When we pay attention to how we are feeling, we can better navigate our emotions. Wise mind is acting out of a place that both incorporates our feelings with the facts, which can be very different, even opposing, hence a dialectical. Learning to find your wise mind and using it is key to understanding and practicing DBT.

Practicing mindfulness can be simple.

Inevitably your mind will wander; as it does, refocus on your breath. Mindfulness is a process of returning attention to one singular activity. Push the extraneous thoughts that bombard us out and staying focused on a singular purpose. It is helpful to start with focusing on something simple like breathing and challenging yourself to mindfully breathe for five minutes.

If you feel like you are starting to get the hang of it, try doing an activity mindfully, like washing the dishes. Focus your attention on the sensations in your hands as you begin to scrub the dishes. Notice the water temperature, the texture of the sponge. Continue to clean the dish, keeping your thoughts on the task you are engaging in. If you notice your thoughts wandering, accept that you have drifted (without judgment) and continue to bring yourself back to the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness prepares one for when emotional mind takes over.

I learned DBT in four modules: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotional Regulation. It is my hope to write about my experiences with motherhood and how I use DBT to navigate my life with Bipolar Disorder.

The skills taught in DBT can greatly increase positive well-being in individuals who struggle with mood lability issues, as well as disorders like Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality. Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are issues that I have firsthand experience with.

DBT is taught to women in the perinatal clinic at the University of Michigan:


There are also other DBT centers in the state of Michigan that could serve moms in a similar capacity or in a variety of areas throughout the state:


  1. Molly, another excellent article, you are an amazing mother. I’m sure there are a lot of mothers finding comfort in what you write, the knowledge and experiences you share are golden.


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