Do I do DBT? And how to pick a therapist.

I hate getting this question and I’ve gotten it quite a few times in the last handful of months so here we are with a longer, more thought-out answer.

The answer is ‘yes and no.’ I’m not a DBT expert but I’ve spoken with them and read them, specifically about the overlap of DBT and gestalt. There aren’t philosophical differences that make them contradict. Gestalt is a beautiful, rich, complete philosophy and DBT has the same set of beliefs. It’s tomato tomato. (ha)

So that’s the ‘yes’ side. Gestalt and DBT come from the same set of beliefs and have the same goal. DBT is the newer packaging, cooler logo. I’m a big fan of DBT.

As far as the ‘no’ side, some DBT practitioners don’t flow organically from the belief system but use workbooks and curriculum. So when someone asks if I do DBT, I don’t know if they are asking if I hold a DBT set of beliefs or if I do workbooks. And most people don’t know what they’re asking. They’ve read/heard something that says, “if you have such and such symptom or diagnosis, seek DBT,” so they fire off emails to different therapists asking if they do DBT. So when I respond like I am in this post, it’s generally just frustrating for both them and me.

It can’t be a clearer ‘yes’ (we believe the same things and aim at the same result) while also being a completely clear ‘no’ (I don’t do workbooks). I just sound annoying when I respond with, “well, that depends. Are you wanting workbooks or are you interested in the philosophy underneath DBT?” Most people probably just hit ‘delete.’ Now people will receive a link to this post. And then they will probably hit delete.

Here’s the main reason I’m writing this post though.

Labels like gestalt, DBT, CBT, psychodynamic, humanistic, transpersonal, etc; they’re just flags. You can’t tell whether a therapist is good by what kind of flag they wave. There are crap therapists who wave a gestalt flag. There are crap therapists who wave a CBT flag. There are crap therapists who wave a DBT flag. And there are amazing CBT’ers, DBT’ers, etc.

And to make things more complicated, even a great therapist who waves a certain flag still won’t be the best fit for every client (or even the same client at a different time in their life). A huge amount of therapy success depends on how the two personalities correspond. And you can’t tell how your personality is going to match with their personality based on what kind of flag they wave.

So when friends/family ask about finding the right therapist, I tell them to do a bunch of consults (hopefully for free) and see which one they like the best. Don’t search for what flag they wave. Just because someone wears a Peyton Manning jersey doesn’t mean they’re Peyton Manning. It just means they’re a fan. Same with these labels. Therapists are just fans. It doesn’t say anything about their skill level or how good of a match they will be for you. You can only figure that out by interacting with them and paying attention to how the interaction affects you. A therapist is waving their flag before they even meet you, which proves it has nothing to do with you.  So don’t worry about the flag, interact with them, and choose the therapist whose impact you appreciate the most.

In case the word ‘hate’ threw anyone off at the beginning, here’s an analogy.  When I get this question as the first interaction, it feels the same as someone saying, “hey. I’m looking for a therapist.  Pick a number between one and ten and if you get it I’ll come see you.”  How crappy would that be if every therapy journey started like that?  Many beautiful potential journeys would be thrown out because of such a wonky beginning. I would hate it.

If you enjoy analogies and redundancy, here’s some more:

It’s like picking what car to buy.  People think the flags are like the make/model of the car.  They’re not.  It’s more like the color of the car.  “Well, I’m thinking about buying this car over here and it’s red.  But there’s this other car over here and it’s gray.” “Well, ya know, red cars generally run a lot better than gray cars.  So you should go with the red one.”  That’s silly.  You have to test drive a therapist in order to know what their make and model are.  And people have different needs:  you might appreciate gas mileage and efficiency or you might appreciate tight cornering and style.

Let me know if you need more analogies. 🙂

About Kip Watkins, MSEd, NCC, LPC

Kip is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Saint Vincent College and his Master's Degree from Duquesne University. Passionate about existential and systemic modes of therapy, he completed the post-graduate program at the Gestalt Institute of Pittsburgh. He deeply enjoys his work with his clients and he also loves helping other clinicians have more meaning and joy in their work.

2 thoughts on “Do I do DBT? And how to pick a therapist.

  1. landzek says:

    Thanks. I’m just starting out as a counselor; I am in school. But I also work in mental health where I run groups that are mostly CBT and DBT. Along with my school reading, I am exploring the AC T, DBT Through kind of the workbooks (just from a work standpoint right now and just learning how to run groups and stuff like that) but I tend to want to move into the original authors. The way I am beginning to understand how counseling might go, as we have our umbrella theories and we have ourselves that we bring into the therapeutic relationship, and then we can use interventions from all sorts of areas.

    As you might notice from my blog I’m a philosopher. So I appreciate your post here thank you.


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