How Can I Help You (And Help Myself)? | DBT Distraction Skill of Contributing

Have you ever noticed how doing something kind, thoughtful, or helpful for someone else when you're in an emotional funk can also make YOU feel better?  That's the topic of this blog post.

In her immensely helpful DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) companion workbook Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, Dr. Linehan (the founder of DBT) discusses how we can use the skill of Contributing to distract ourselves during those times when we must tolerate the distress of a situation which, at that moment in time, cannot be changed:

"Contribute to someone; do volunteer work; give something to someone else; make something nice for someone else; do a surprising, thoughtful thing" (Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, page 166, by Marsha Linehan)

This skill falls under the Distracting skill set and is considered a crisis survival strategy.

I think that when most of us hear the suggestion to "contribute," especially if the word "volunteer" is mentioned, we may feel like a daunting task involving a long-term commitment would be necessary to fulfill practicing this skill. That's just not the case.

We can practice contributing in a number of ways.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Bake a treat or make a meal for someone as a surprise (a co-worker made a batch of macaroons - just for me - and left them on my desk in a nice container on Friday. It made me feel SO special! This is a great way to contribute, and the actual process of baking is a great way to distract as well.)
  • Carry grocery bags into the house for an elderly person
  • Donate unused clothes or household items to a thrift shop that helps people in the community
  • Volunteer to help a coworker if your work load is a little lighter and he or she is overwhelmed
  • Give someone fresh flowers
  • Offer to clean up even if it's not your turn

Taking our minds off of our own problems and worries - especially when nothing can immediately be done to resolve our issues - is a great way to get outside of our heads and help someone else out. Inevitably, we feel better, too!

What are some ways that you can brighten someone else's day this week while also helping to improve your mood?  

Have you done something to help someone else and noticed that in doing so you escaped some of your own pain for a little bit?

Thanks for reading.
More soon.


  1. I've noticed that when I use the DBT skill of contributing, it naturally follows that I use the skill of comparisons, too. When I'm in distress and help someone, it definitely makes me feel better, but also I feel better because I see that the other person may be worse off than me, and then I become truly grateful for what I have and who I am, mental illness and all.

    1. VERY good point, Ann! Thanks for reading and commenting. ☺

  2. I haven't started DBT yet, but reading this has made me think. I was doing a lot of volunteer work at one point, I wasn't working, I had flunked out of college and I was basically living off nothing, one would have have thought that it would have been a really crappy time in my life. But throwing myself into my volunteer work helped balance me out.

    At the same time though, near the end of my stint at this place I kind of felt that I was loosing myself in the work too - but I suppose that's a risk of any of us with BPD risk in doing any sort of activity.

  3. Anon-Trying-To-RecoverJuly 10, 2012 at 3:14 AM

    Debbie, you are such a beautiful, kind and thoughtful person :)
    I hope you will be blessed with as many blessing you give to others, even more!



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