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Crisis Management Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

crisis management using dialectical behavior therapy

Not a single one of us has been devoid of a crisis situation. We have all been in a place where things seem out of hand and we do not really know what to do. We all have a fight-or-flight response in such situations. Some of us may also have a freeze or fawn response. But what is the right way to manage a crisis? Well first of all there is no one right way. But I did find some things when I started reading psychology. I have always focused on using the concepts of psychology in everyday life so that we have the tools to handle any situation before it even arises. This is my attempt to give you a practical approach to crisis management using dialectical behavior therapy.


What Is a Crisis Situation?

To start with let us define what a crisis situation is. In simple words, a crisis situation is any event that has a potentially negative outcome. There can be a number of events in your everyday life that may have negative outcomes, but you will not classify all of them as crisis situations. So to clear that up – a crisis situation can be where –

  1. There is a potentially negative outcome
  2. The incident is unexpected
  3. It can be linked to an emotional turmoil
  4. It causes interruptions in basic day-to-day functioning
  5. It has the potential to cause permanent damage
  6. The knowledge about the situation is limited

Worst Things To Do In A Crisis Situation

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

DBT is a kind of cognitive behavior therapy that works on evidence-based principles to bring about changes in our personalities and deal with interpersonal conflicts. It also works very well for intra-personal conflicts. DBT uses mindfulness-based strategies to synthesize a balance of acceptance and change. Though generally used to treat personality disorders there are many aspects of DBT that can be used for our everyday conflicts and emotional regulation. There are 4 components of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy:


Interpersonal Effectiveness

Distress Tolerance

Emotional Regulation

Here we will focus on the distress tolerance skill set of DBT and how it can help us in crisis management.

Warning: DBT is a complex therapy and hence I would not suggest you do self-treatments if the crisis situation is out of your hands. This article is only written to make you aware of the concepts and use it for your regular crisis management situations. If the situations are overwhelming to you, please take professional help.

Crisis Management Using Distress Tolerance Skills of DBT

Pain and distress are part of life but dwelling on a problem is not going to change anything. Also refusing to accept these situations will also lead to suffering. The goal of distress tolerance skills in DBT is to accept, find meaning and tolerate the crisis.

Change causes crisis and crisis causes change.

Hence any attempts at change will produce some sort of crisis in life and hence it is very important for each individual to be able to handle the crisis.

Crisis Management Using STOP Skills

STOP is the Abbreviation for the following steps that you can take in order to have more clarity on the crisis situation and your direction of dealing with it. What actions you take to handle the crisis situation is a secondary matter. The first thing you need to deal with is your own emotions.

Crisis Management Using Urge Surfing

In any crisis situation, you would have some urges to indulge in activities that are listed as worse things to do in a crisis situation above. This skill helps you to deal with that urge.

Urges last generally intense for 20-30 minutes. So when dealing with the urges it is better to let the wave pass. You cannot avoid the wave and you cannot deny it. Hence it is important to be open to your urges. This does not mean I am suggesting that you give in to your urges. This would be devastating. All I am saying is let yourself acknowledge that there is an urge and it is ok to have this urge but every urge doesn’t need to be acted upon. Remind yourself that you do have a choice. Ask yourself what are the benefits of acting upon these urges now. What are the drawbacks of acting upon these urges?

Hold yourself strong for 30 minutes, and let the peak of the wave pass. It is in the nature of the wave to fall down again and hence your urges would be controllable after a span of time too. Divert your attention for those 30 minutes into some other activities. Some of the activities in the next section may help you.

Crisis Management using Distraction techniques like – ACCEPTS

Crisis Management using IMPROVE skills

The IMPROVE skills are about improving the moment you are in right now.

These are some distress tolerance skills from dialectical behavior therapy that you can use for crisis management. If you wish to read more about DBT here are some book suggestions:

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