How Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Can Help PTSD Symptoms

How Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Can Help PTSD Symptoms

June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day

My dad was a “tanker” in the 3rd Armored Division, Korean War. He was a proud member of the “3rd Herd” and served in the Army from 1950 to 1953. He remained active in the army reserves for over 12 years after the war, which included his participation in “tanker school” helping to prepare soldiers for the Vietnam War.

It wasn’t until years later when we attempted to put him into an MRI machine that we realized the impact of being in a tank when under heavy fire. He was not having it! That experience, however, opened the door to a discussion on what was most likely his symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

<<Related Article: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms>>

We know that veterans often encounter compounding traumas from their military experience. Symptoms can be further compounded when dealing with a military culture that often encourages stoicism and symptom suppression.

How can we help trauma victims in our lives get the help they may need?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has proven to be effective for those who struggle with PTSD and emotion dysregulation for the following reasons:

  1. This evidence-based treatment uses skills like mindfulness to treat symptoms.
  2. Distress tolerance skills prove effective in treating life threatening symptoms such as suicidal/hopeless thinking, self-harm.
  3. Individuals who struggle with compliance and difficulty with everyday living learn acceptance and willingness.
  4. Treatment is more structured and has been associated with better outcomes than typical PTSD treatment.
  5. Reductions in psychiatric hospitalizations and psychiatric emergency room visits.

If you or someone you know struggles with symptoms of anxiety, depression or PTSD, consider exploring treatment through DBT.

DBT Skill: Mindfulness of Breath

People with PTSD often feel as though they have a hard time getting any distance from unpleasant thoughts and memories. They may feel preoccupied with and distracted by these thoughts. As a result, many find they have a hard time focusing their attention on what matters most in their life, such as relationships or activities they used to enjoy. Instead, they find themselves caught up in recalling unpleasant thoughts and images associated with their trauma experience.

The DBT Skill called Mindfulness of Breath can be helpful getting someone who is struggling “out of his head” and in touch with the present moment.

Getting started is as simple as finding a comfortable sitting position and focusing on your breathing.

Anytime that you notice your mind has wandered away from your breath, simply notice what it was that took your attention away and then gently bring your attention back to the present moment – your breathing.


Kym Hansen-Duell, LMSWKym Hansen-Duell, LMSW, ACSW is a licensed social worker at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. Kym has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Central Michigan University and a Master of Social Work from Grand Valley State University. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Kym is available to speak at community events on topics such as ADHD, depression, parenting, family issues and workplace stress

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