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Positive Psychology and Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

According to Laura L. C. Johnson, MBA, MA, "Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) helps you learn more flexible and accurate thinking as well as effective behaviors and coping skills. CBT does not discount the negative but helps you put it into perspective and see what information you might be missing that could help you develop more helpful thoughts and beliefs. Mindfulness can complement CBT by increasing your ability to direct your attention to more productive thoughts and activities and reduce anticipatory anxiety and obsessive rumination."

candles, water and rocks for meditationIn other words, CBT is another aspect of positive psychology. Rather than thinking of a person as having a mental illness, CBT is based on the premise that negative thinking, also know as automatic thoughts, bring about emotions that are sad or anxious or depressed. By learning how to replace the automatic thoughts with ones that are based more on reality and empirical evidence, the way we feel can be vastly improved.

Psychologist Marsha Linehan took CBT one step further by adding mindful meditation to the formula. This is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is based on the idea of "radical self acceptance" regardless of how suicidal or depressed a person may feel. The dialectic occurs because contradictory ways of thinking are set up: "You are loved the way you are," however, "You must strive to change." These contradictory ways of thinking must be integrated in order to function in ways that feel much better than before.

In actuality, Linehan developed DBT to help those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Those with BPD are extremely self hating. They are given deep depression, suicidal thinking, self injury, such as self cutting, and extremely volatile emotional outbursts. Because of the intensity of their problem, neither talking nor cognitive behavior therapy worked to help them. However, the addition of mindful meditation and the emphasis on radical self acceptance made a big difference in helping these people live happy and well adjusted lives.

The themes of self acceptance and the use of mindful meditation are keys to understanding positive psychology. This carries with it an optimistic view of mankind and the conviction that all of us are able to change in ways that are positive. In other words, happiness is achievable. That is not to say that any of us can go through our lives feeling happy all of the time. It does mean that, equipped with positive psychology, we can weather the storms that inevitably come with life.

Whether a person does or does not have BPD, everyone can and should use both mindful meditation and the tools of CBT when they start to feel down or sad because of some crisis that may be happening. Remember, radical self acceptance is good for all of us.