Marsha Linehan, PhD, ABPP is a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the University of Washington. She developed and has been the foremost researcher and disseminator of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an evidence-based treatment for chronic suicidal behaviors and borderline personality.
Marsha Linehan earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Loyola University in Chicago in 1971. During her doctoral work at Loyola University, she studied suicidal behavior and provided treatment to those at risk for suicide. In 1972, Linehan accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow at Stony Brook University, where she studied behavioral therapy. Linehan accepted a faculty position at the University of Washington in 1977 and has worked there, developing and researching the implementation of DBT, for nearly four decades.
Linehan, in addition to her work in the practice and research of psychology, studies Zen meditation and is a Zen master. Her training in Zen spirituality led her to recognize the importance of mindfulness and meditation for mental and emotional well-being, and DBT's incorporation of these principles reflects this.
In a speech she gave in 2011, Linehan revealed that when she was a teenager, she had been a resident at the Institute of Living, an inpatient mental health hospital, for over two years. Linehan spoke about the severe mental health issues she experienced as a teenager, suicidal behavior among them. Although she was not diagnosed with borderline personality at the time, the account Linehan provided of her symptoms aligns with diagnostic criteria for borderline personality in today’s mental health treatment system.
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Linehan chose to share the story of the mental health challenges she faced both to promote compassion for those seeking treatment for mental health conditions and to provide hope for people diagnosed with mental health conditions by sharing her own account of success.
Contribution to Psychology
Through observations of individuals experiencing chronic suicidality and training in the delivery of behavioral therapy, Linehan came to recognize the importance of two seemingly opposite but equally important concepts in mental health:
- To achieve meaningful, happy lives, people must learn to accept things as they are.
- Change is necessary for growth and happiness.
These observations formed the basis of Linehan’s DBT, which is now considered to be the gold standard in treatment for borderline personality, a mental health condition often associated with suicidal behavior and widely recognized as difficult to treat. Based in the dialectical principle of the dual importance of acceptance and change, DBT incorporates multiple techniques from behavioral therapy, strategies to improve coping and emotion regulation, and mindfulness skills.
Linehan has studied DBT throughout her career, training a number of mental heath professionals in its use, and has expanded use of the treatment to address eating disorders and substance abuse. She has published extensively in scientific journals and is the author of multiple books, including manuals on the use of DBT for practitioners. She founded the Lineman Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and research on compassionate and scientifically based treatments for mental health conditions, Behavioral Tech LLC, a company that provides training and consulting in DBT, and Behavioral Tech Research, Inc., a company that develops online and mobile technologies used to improve evidence-based psychological treatments.
Currently, Linehan operates a clinical practice and teaches psychology at the University of Washington. Her lifelong dedication to compassionate and successful mental heath treatment has been recognized internationally, and she frequently gives speeches and interviews about DBT and her other contributions to the field of psychology. She also provides mindfulness training in retreats and workshops for health care providers.
Books by Marsha Linehan
Linehan has written a number of books and training manuals. Included in her published works are:
- Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder
- Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder
- DBT Skills Training Manual
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In addition to books, she has published numerous articles and is a member of several editorial boards.
- Carey, B. (2011, June 23). Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/health/23lives.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1
- The Linehan Institute (n.d.) Dr. Marsha Linehan, Founder. Retrieved from http://www.linehaninstitute.org/about-Linehan.php