For an assignment in the Positive Psychology course that I am taking this summer as part of my grad school program, we were asked to write a gratitude letter to someone who affected our lives. I chose Dr. Marsha Linehan, who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and who has suffered herself as an emotionally sensitive woman.
Dear Dr. Marsha Linehan:
For someone who has never met you in person but hopes to someday, I owe an awful lot to you, and I am forever grateful. You came into my life a few years ago when I was at my wit’s end. I was depressed, exhausted, and suffering from suicidal thoughts. I found myself, once again, having an emotional crisis and being referred from the emergency room to the psychiatric clinic for mental health services. This time, I was referred to an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), during which part of the curriculum was to watch sections of your video series From Chaos to Freedom and to study materials and do worksheets from your book Skills Training Manual for Borderline Personality Disorder.
Your caring, motherly presence made me feel safe, and your background as a doctor who worked with a population who you have referred to as “emotional third degree burn victims” convinced me that you understood the gravity of my pain and validated my experience as an incredibly emotionally sensitive woman. I didn’t understand or fully realize the power in the teachings you provided during that crisis time, but I felt incredibly comforted and excited when, after the program, I was referred to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the modality that I learned you developed and that is based on your work that I was introduced to in IOP. This is where my real healing began.
Each week, for nearly two years (the clinic I attended allowed you to keep taking the modules until both you and your clinical team felt you were ready to graduate), I and the rest of the group participated in 5-10 minute mindfulness meditations guided by you on CD. Over time, these practices took me from being someone who couldn’t bear to sit still for five minutes to someone who, most weeks, looked forward to and welcomed the opportunity to sit quietly and allow my busy mind to rest. I was inspired by the stories you would tell leading into the practices, such as your experiences with sitting meditation sometimes for a full day in Zen Buddhist monasteries. If you could sit there for a full day, I thought, I could handle the five minutes.
As we began to dig deeper into the four modules that you created (Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Mindfulness), you, alongside my DBT therapist, taught me skills that helped me tap into my Wise Mind -- skills that helped me learn to put a pause between my initial emotional reaction and any action I would take -- skills that, essentially, helped me to radically change my life. You taught me that I don’t need to believe everything that I think -- that not all thoughts and feelings are true, but that we should still honor them because they all have “cause.” You taught me that with hard work, dedication, and persistence with practicing DBT skills, even a serious illness like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be overcome.
Yes, Dr. Linehan, after just a couple of years of working the skills that have been the focus of your research and practice, I no longer meet the criteria for BPD. I realize that this would not have been possible without an active commitment on my behalf, but without the framework and guidance that you provided through the curriculum at my clinic as well as the training in your modality of DBT received by the staff who treated and worked with me, I would not have had an effective path to follow. Because of you, I am now equipped to help my peers in the capacity of a DBT Skills Coach, was recently filmed in a documentary about BPD, have a successful blog that reaches thousands each month around the globe with the hope that they too can recover, and I have written two successful books about my experience with BPD and DBT. Without you, none of this would have been possible.
I am also incredibly thankful, Dr. Linehan, as are tens of thousands of other people on this planet who suffer with emotional sensitivity and/or instability issues, that you bravely “came out” recently in the New York Times, revealing after all these years in the profession and after having helped literally save the lives of countless people like me, that you also suffered greatly from mental illness as a young woman. You shared that you essentially also had BPD and were institutionalized and thought to be a hopeless psychiatric case. You proved the world wrong, and I believe that your choice to recently come out and share this testimony of the possibility of healing was timely and much needed. I am so grateful that you were willing to take all of the risks involved in becoming so vulnerable within the professional community of which you are a part, the patients who are affected by your work, and the world at large. I truly hope that it the choice has been as worth it for you as it has for people like me.
Thank you for everything you have done and everything you continue to do. You and your work have added much needed meaning to my life, and I hope that, should you stumble upon my work, you will be proud and gratified to know what an impact you have had on my (and countless other’s) lives.
Thank you, Dr. Linehan.
In warmth and sincerity,