Balancing Act: Facing This Truth May Be Key to Insight and Change

teenagers on teeter totterOne of the foundational ideas to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a worldview based in dialectics. This theme resonates with a lot of people, and can even enhance the ways we think about and interact with other people.

What is it and why is it a big deal? Mirriam-Webster defines it as a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth. In DBT, it embodies ideas of interrelatedness, opposition, and continuous change.

Reality is not static. It is complex, and often there are many simultaneous aspects occurring. If we can widen our lens to include the many different forces at work, we might learn something new.

Acceptance and Change

Even the act of entering into psychotherapy allows someone to simultaneously acknowledge two seemingly opposing ideas: acceptance and change.

It’s balancing the seemingly opposing forces of how I am now and how I want to be. Perhaps I’m troubled currently, and yet I have the potential to grow and change. I need on some level to accept where I’m at right now and tolerate that (which itself might be a change) while I’m figuring out how to move forward.

Identifying this inherent tug of war in our current situation can motivate us and, at times, unlock some of the insight that leads to real change. Because it’s tension that ultimately produces different results (think about the tension between positive and negative, good and bad, children and parents, person and environment, and so on).

Give and Take

This idea is also played out in the therapeutic relationship. Sometimes a therapist is validating and reflecting what I’m saying; other times he or she is confronting me or questioning the facts of what I’m saying. This back-and-forth allows us to meet in the middle. We are constantly working together to figure out “what is being left out of our understanding.”

It is an approach to engaging in dialogue so that movement can be made. In therapy, we have a safe space to explore opposition of contradictory positions, and arrive at new meanings within old meanings.

During that process, a therapist works to simultaneously support a person’s attempts at self-preservation and his or her attempts at self-transformation. This is the backdrop for the “a-ha!” moment—the process where we work to understand fully what’s going on and how things stand before we actually move toward change. Most people, most of the time, have difficulty accurately identifying the factors that control their behavior. Analysis (either on our own or with another’s help, as in the psychotherapy relationship) highlights patterns to promote understanding that leads to change.

The very process of analyzing is often a behavioral change for us! Yes, what we are going through is legitimate and difficult. There are other things going on as well, and many different alternatives to meeting the various needs in our lives.

Being open to this idea of balancing oppositional forces often unlocks the process of insight and eventual behavior change.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Lebo, LPC, CADCI, therapist in Portland, Oregon

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rhea


    March 7th, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    It’s that push and pull of the acceptance and change that kills me. I know that I have to be willing (and able!) to accept where I am today before moving forward but there is a part of me that is unbelieving and unable to deal with the reality of life as I know it today. I feel like I should be so much farther along, have life be so much more manageable than what I have, and yet here I am still struggling to pay bills and find a way to move past this feeling of living paycheck to paycheck. I know that I need the rules and boundaries to move me forward but I still continue to hold myself back with what I want to be and not necessarily what I am in the here and now.

  • simone


    March 9th, 2014 at 4:54 AM

    I know that most of us feel and experience these dichotomies in life at one time or another but it is good to remind us that in order the see real change in our lives, we have to be willing and open to experiencing that. It is those difernces from which we learn the most, about life and about ourselves.

  • Samuel


    March 10th, 2014 at 2:46 AM

    Therapy is all about safety and freedom. Feeling safe to say what you are really feeling and the freedom to say those things without being blasted or made to feel like this is wrong in some way.
    That’s the great thing about the whole therapy experience. It can be the place to explore those things that you often feel the need to hide beneath the surface in a place where there is no judgement. And with someone who can help you make sense of those things that often feel like they make no sense.

  • boBBy


    March 11th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    well running away from the truth will never get you anywhere

  • Pressley


    March 13th, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    You know what the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn? That we also have to accept that there are things in life that we can’t change, and we have to learn to be okay with that too. That’s hard.

  • Suzanne d

    Suzanne d

    March 13th, 2014 at 2:02 PM

    Why do we always say that we so desperately want to change and yet at the same time we hold on to all of the old stuff that has been holding us back for so long? What is that all about? Is it because this is what is the most comfortable to us? What we are accustomed to? Or is it just our way of holding on to the past?

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