Mindfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

There are many definitions for mindfulness, many ways of learning and understanding mindfulness and many methods to be mindful. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), mindfulness skills are taught as a central component to skills training. They are the first skills taught and are repeated throughout all groups and skills training. Mindfulness skills are considered as vehicles for balancing emotionality and intellectualization.

In DBT mindfulness skills are designed to teach a person how to focus their mind and attention. Achieving focus requires control of attention, which is a capability many people with impulsive and mood dependent behaviors lack. Mindfulness teaches individuals to observe and describe their own behavior, which is necessary when any new behavior is being learned, when there is some sort of problem, or a need for change.

Mindfulness is broken down into skill sets which include:
WISE MIND: The integration of ‘emotion mind’ and ‘reasonable mind.’ Combination of emotional experiencing and problem solving. This skill can be intuitive.
OBSERVE: JUST NOTICE: Allowing oneself to notice the experience in the moment, without getting caught in it and without reacting to it. The skill of observe involves noticing events, emotions, thoughts and other responses.
DESCRIBE: PUT WORDS ON: applying verbal labels to internal (thoughts & feelings), behavioral and environmental events.
PARTICIPATE: To become one with an experience, completely forgetting yourself. Letting yourself get involved in the moment without ruminating.
NONJUDGMENTAL STANCE: Judging something as neither good nor bad. Everything simply is as it is. Focusing on just the facts.
ONE-MINDFULLY: IN THE MOMENT: To focus the mind and awareness on the current moment’s activity, rather than splitting attention among several activities and thoughts.
EFFECTIVENESS: FOCUS ON WHAT WORKS: To focus on doing what is actually needed or called for in a situation, rather than on what is considered ‘right’ or ‘fair’ or what ‘should’ be done. Acting skillfully to meet the needs of the situation just as it is.


The ability to put verbal labels to behavioral, environmental and emotional events is essential to both communication and to self- control. Choose an experience that often makes you emotional and practice putting that experience into words. Describe to yourself what is happening and put a name on your feelings and thoughts. If a feeling arises, say to yourself “I am feeling sad/mad/happy” etc. If you have a thought, say to yourself, “I am having the thought ‘I can’t do this’” Or whatever the thought might be. Applying verbal labels to internal thoughts and feelings, as well as behavioral and environmental events helps us to separate ourselves from the situation. We lose our reactivity and can choose which thoughts and feelings to respond to and which to allow to pass by.