A second module of DBT is teaching an individual to use distress tolerance skills when faced with situations creating great emotional pain and upheaval, with the hope that the healthy coping strategies minimize suffering or engagement in ineffective behaviors (Linehan, 1993). Within a coaching situation, the client can be reminded that they are not necessarily “giving in” or resigning to the situation, but that they are using tools to simply identifying the negative situation, acknowledging the impact of it, and making wise decisions about if, or how, to take action. Summarized as “distract, relax, and cope,” the individual uses distraction and self-soothing strategies, works on improving the moment, and sharpens their focus on the pros and cons of the situation (McKay, Wood, & Brandtley, 2007). Coaches can encourage their clients to adapt one, or several, of the distress tolerance tools to make them unique and individualized for the client’s own needs.
One common tool is described as ACCEPTS, and supports the individual to create personal strategies that will help them distract from heightened emotions they are feeling related to the situation/s triggering them. In The Stress Response, Matta writes “when you generate situations that elicit feelings of joy and happiness, you strengthen the pathways in the brain associated with the experience of pleasure. (pg.136).
The acronym of ACCEPTS is as follows:
- Activities – engage in activities you enjoy
- Contribution – to others and the community
- Comparisons - to others less fortunate, or comparison to worse situations you have been in
- Emotions – engage in positive feelings and humor
- Push away – put the situation to the side for a while
- Thoughts – think about something else
- Sensations – experience a different intense feeling (e.g. take a cold shower, eat a spicy food)
A second tool using the acronym, IMPROVE, can be a useful strategy for supporting the client to engage in relaxation techniques. Many life coaches observe healthy self-care skills as a critical component to one’s overall well-being, and as a support to managing stress and strong emotions. Using the IMPROVE acronym, the client is reminded of the various techniques that can be used to elicit relaxation or reduce their strong emotions felt, such as:
- Imagery: Imagine how an event ends successfully, or imagine a peaceful, relaxing scene
- Meaning: Relate a positive purpose or meaning to the emotion being felt
- Prayer: Use prayer, or if you are not religious, repeat a personal mantra, such as “This will pass.”
- Relaxation: Engage in relaxation and meditation techniques
- One thing at a time: Keep your attention and focus on the present moment using mindfulness
- Vacation: Take a short break, such as taking a brief walk or reading for 10 minutes
- Encouragement: Be a cheerleader for yourself and remind yourself that you can do it!
An additional concept that fosters use of distress tolerance is “radical acceptance,” which encompasses the technique of looking at yourself and the situation, seeing it for what it really is without judgment or criticism, and focusing your attention on what can be done “now” (McKay, Wood, & Brandtley, 2007). Clients can be encouraged to find a mantra or coping statement, such as
fighting the past only blinds me to my present,
as way to immediately engage radical acceptance when they feel strong emotions quickly surfacing.
Modified modules and techniques of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which has been shown to effectively support individuals who become easily overwhelmed by their emotions, may be very supportive to both the life coach and the client when faced with situations in which the client is struggling to create healthy coping strategies or effectively work toward their goals due to their “hyperfocus” on the related emotions. Incorporating dialectical theory, mindfulness techniques, and distress tolerance skills in life coaching sessions may not only support the client in the moment, but also encourage them to develop life-long problem solving tools for the future.
Two additional modules that are integral parts of DBT are emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness, which further strengthen an individual’s use of mindfulness, effective problem solving, and ability to be assertive while fostering coping strategies and maintaining healthy relationships (Linehan, 1993). Not only would these additional modules be effective for emotionally-challenging clients, but also when providing life coaching to youths. Research has shown teenagers rely on using the emotional center of their brain (the amygdala) to interpret information, in contrast to adults who use the reflective part of the brain (the frontal lobes), which leads to an
overemphasis on emotions, leading to a great deal of misunderstanding and misinterpreting of information (Feinstein, 2007).
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Feinstein, S. (2007). Parenting the Teenage Brain: Understanding a Work in Progress. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
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Linehan, M.M. (1993). Dialectical behavior therapy for treatment of borderline personality. National Research on Drug Abuse Research Monograph Series. 137. 206-221.
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