Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Radical Acceptance

October 25, 2013 Michele Rosenthal

Radical acceptance means complete and total acceptance of something, accepting reality, and is a key component of Dialetical Behavioral Therapy.

Yesterday, I listened to an interview with Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). If you aren't hip to the help DBT can offer, you might find some new ideas here.

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)?

Radical acceptance is one of the mainstays of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy, DBT, process.
DBT was developed in the 1980s as a treatment approach for Borderline Personality Disorder (a diagnosis often misgiven to PTSD patients since the symptoms are so similar). A modified form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, DBT differs from traditional CBT in its emphasis on validation - a powerful tool whereby the therapist and the patient work on "accepting" uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and behaviors rather than struggling with them. Once an identified thought, emotion or behavior has been validated, the process of change no longer appears impossible, and the goals of gradual transformation become reality.

The driving theory behind DBT is the idea that some people react more intensely to emotional circumstances, especially those involved in personal relationships, including romance, family and friends. DBT offers management techniques for those whose arousal levels increase more quickly than others, reach a high degree of emotional activation, and then take a notable length of time to reduce to baseline levels.

DBT's Theory of Radical Acceptance

One of the most interesting aspects of Linehan's interview was the idea of 'radical acceptance', one of the mainstays of the DBT process. What it is, plus how and why it works is the subject of this month's audio. Take a listen and tell me what you think in the comments below...

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her website,

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2013, October 25). Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Radical Acceptance, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

Rachel Gill
December, 4 2013 at 5:03 am

The importance and function of radical acceptance, I find, is best expressed with this simple equation
Pain + non-acceptance = suffering

Martha Shaw
October, 30 2013 at 12:47 pm

I have found STEPPS, another treatment model, to be much more helpful than DBT.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
October, 30 2013 at 5:28 pm

@Martha-- Thanks for sharing your experience! Everyone's recovery is so unique, it's good to know all the things that are helpful so that individual choices can be made.

October, 30 2013 at 12:29 pm

I appreciate the two-fold approach to managing stimuli at the onset; however, I feel queasy thinking about the "change" part. The acceptance part is internal, but the change part may involve taking action out in the world, where almost all of my ptsd triggers lurk. The article and the recording do not concern themselves with the likelihood that the acceptance->change process may need to occur for a singular trigger or life challenge over and over until a lasting change may occur.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
October, 30 2013 at 5:29 pm

@Elizabeth -- As a trauma survivor, I know exactly what you mean. In the space of this post and recording I couldn't address that and you're making a terrifically valid point. As in all parts of managing PTSD things often need to occur one at a time and with the sole discretion of the survivor in managing what is done and when.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 3 2013 at 6:33 am

Try and look up "Out of Control". This workbook is quite long and yet it deals a lot with the actual change part and things that we can implement in order to change without falling back into all of the self destructive behaviours.…
That was the link on Amazon that I found for the book. The workbook is written at a easy to read level, and is constantly repeating itself, which at first I despised. Eventually though, I found that it was through this repetition that I "practiced" incorporating the changes. I have Bipolar not Borderline and although the primary focus is on borderline, almost anyone can benefit from this text. You can also follow the author on FB.

Chris in SC
October, 30 2013 at 12:20 pm

I have never heard as clear of an explanation for what DBT and Radical Acceptance are before! I am at the beginning of this leg of my journey. I have book marked this and will refer to it often. Thank you.

Learn to Like Yourself | Building Self-Esteem
October, 27 2013 at 8:32 pm

[...] Radical Self-Acceptance. I know, if you could accept yourself, you wouldn’t even be reading this. And, honestly, most people can’t accept themselves all the time. So rather than compare or try to emulate Buddha, notice areas where you are beating yourself up. “I’m not getting over an old relationship” or “This day feels hopeless.”  Accept that this is how you feel in the moment and keep pushing forward. (Read more about radical acceptance.) [...]

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