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DBTalk — Walking the Middle Path: Part II

Yael Dorfman and Bashi Levine LPC, ACT

Most of the time I don’t even need to give them feedback because they’ve gotten so good at expressing it themselves to each other!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

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Bashi

It’s hard to believe that today is the girls’ last group session before they graduate DBT — and it’s also not so hard to believe, seeing how they’ve grown! They are confident and comfortable enough that I can teach them the skills and then spend the rest of the time observing them as they role-play. Most of the time I don’t even need to give them feedback because they’ve gotten so good at expressing it themselves to each other! I hear them telling their role-play partners, “No, that didn’t make me feel understood,” and, “I like the way you said that,” or, “That wasn’t exactly what I meant.”

The skills that we cover in this final session are validation skills.

First, we define what validation is, what it isn’t, and when and how to validate — including self-validation.

I start with an example that they can really relate to:

Chana is sitting in class, working hard at paying attention, when she accidentally knocks over her notebook. The teacher immediately reprimands her harshly: “There you go again, Chana, disrupting and looking for attention. You’re getting too old for that!” Her classmates laugh uncomfortably while Chana wishes she could disappear. When she gets home, she tearfully tells the story to her mother, who sighs and says, “Chana, you need to try harder, you’re never going to get into seminary like this!”

I ask the girls what they think. They are all cringing as they commiserate with “Chana,” whose teacher, classmates, and even mother invalidated her feelings and her genuine efforts to pay attention.

Then we focus on what validation looks like:

  1. Active, focused listening: make eye contact.
  2. Be mindful of verbal and nonverbal reactions: avoid rolling your eyes, sighing, or saying “that’s dumb.”
  3. Observe the other person’s feelings: use a word to describe the feeling, like, “I see that you’re disappointed!”
  4. Reflect the feeling back, nonjudgmentally: let the other person know that you understand how they’re feeling. You might say, “That’s really upsetting. It makes sense that you’re feeling angry right now.”
  5. Show tolerance: find how the feelings, thoughts, and actions make sense, given the person’s history and circumstances, and validate that, even if you don’t approve. “I get that you’re upset, especially because they didn’t include you in the study group last time either.”
  6. Respond in a way that shows you’re taking the other person seriously: your response — verbal and nonverbal — should be appropriate to the feeling. Sometimes listening quietly or offering a hug is enough; other times, doing something to help with the problem can be very validating. If you’re not sure what to do, try asking, “How can I be most helpful? Do you want advice or do you just want me to listen?”

Remember: validation doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with the other person’s actions or feelings, but rather understanding her point of view.

It can be really hard to validate, especially when you can’t relate or don’t agree. If your friend cries after flunking a test, and you know that she goofed off instead of studying, don’t validate the fact that she didn’t study — validate her feelings of anger and disappointment: It sounds like you’re really upset about that grade.

And if you really don’t get it, then say so.  

(Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 714)

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