Marsha Linehan

What's a dialectic?

“What does that even mean?” is the typical response I get when I tell people what DBT stands for; Dialectical Behavior Therapy. So what is a dialectic? Probably not what you’re thinking, it has nothing to do with dialect or the language of a particular region.

Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT, describes a dialectic as “a synthesis or integration of opposites .” I describe dialectics as holding two differing ideas or emotions within ourselves and giving them both space to exist; basically saying two opposing ideas are both true. That sounds a little abstract, let me give some examples. When someone you love behaves in a manner you don’t find acceptable you may experience frustration or anger or upset; while also loving them. This is a dialectic.

In regard to treatment it’s the balancing of acceptance (for where you are) and change (for where you’d like to be). To put it into one word, it would be “bittersweet” or that feeling of happiness that is accompanied by sadness. In candy form it would be a Sour Patch Kid; both sour and sweet.

I’m going to leave you with a dialectic idea that recurs throughout DBT, it’s the thought that “You’re doing the best you can, AND you can do better.”