DBT Video Text: Using Crisis Survival Skills

Home > DBT Video Text: Using Crisis Survival Skills

These are scripts from videos by Dialectical Behavioral Therapy creator Marsha Linehan describing DBT skills. You can purchase the videos from Behavioral Tech LLC.

So when do you need Crisis Survival Skills? Well, of course you need then when you’re in a crisis. But, they’re really great skills for any situation that’s really distressing and has any one of the following characteristics.

First, if you’re in a situation where the problem can’t be solved right this minute. For example, imagine you’re on you way to your mother’s funeral and you have to switch planes in the middle on the way. So you’re going the night before and you get to the airport and you miss your connection. They have mechanical trouble in the first plane. You miss the connection. There are no more connections. There’s no train; there’s no car that will get you there. That’s not only a crisis but it’s a crisis that can’t be solved. What do you need? Crisis survival. 

So what’s another situation? Well, it’s any situation where you’ve got a big problem and it could be solved except that you don’t have the skills. So, imagine you’re driving your car, you’re out on the highway, and you have a flat tire. Now that’s not a crisis. You know how to change a tire. And it’s not a crisis if you’re in town somewhere and there’s someone who’ll come by and change it for you. But what about you’re on the road somewhere, you’re far away. There’s nobody nearby. You’ve got everything in the car to change the tire – well, no one taught you how to change the tire. You don’t know the first thing about how to even get the jack out.

DBT Crisis Survival: A car with a flat tire.

What about a situation where it’s a crisis, the problem can be solved – it can actually be made better. And you’ve even got the skills. The problem is, you just can’t figure out a way to get those skills to come out of you. Maybe you’re sick. You’re so sick that you can’t act skillfully. Maybe you’ve just had ten other crises and frankly you’re worn out from dealing with all those crises and this is just one crisis too many. 

So what do you need when this happens? You need crisis survival skills.

Now it’s important to distinguish a crisis where you need crisis survival skills and a life problem where you need to use problem solving skills. Most of the time in life we need problem solving skills. What I mean by this is, you know, you can’t live your entire life in survival mode. Have you ever noticed how some people do that? Life itself is a crisis. Now if that’s true for you, if life itself is a crisis, if you’re saying ‘Hey, listen, I’m always in a crisis.’ Then you’re going to need problem solving skills to figure out why you’re always in crisis.

So what is a crisis? Generally crises are highly stressful; very intense and immediate. Crises are short term. They don’t last forever. And, in a crisis, there’s a really intense pressure to resolve the problem now or right this minute.

So when do you need Crisis Survival Skills? You need them in any situation that doesn’t have an immediate problem solution. And it’s really intense. And you need Crisis Survival skills in any situation when you have a really strong desire to do something that’s going to make your life worse.

Got that? Think about it for yourself. Think of two types of situations where one, it’s a crisis, it’s intense, it’s got to be solved now and there’s no solution. Or two, it may not even be a crisis but you’ve got an intense desire to do simply to do something that’s going to make your life a whole lot worse.

So what kind of situations are we talking about? Why don’t you imagine that you’ve had a really terrible day. I mean you’ve had everybody screaming at you all day and you come home, and frankly, all you want to do is get drunk. And you’re a recovering alcoholic. You need crisis survival skills. 

Or, what if you’re on the highway, you’re driving, someone cuts you off and you get so angry that you have an immediate urge to run that person right off the road. You need crisis survival skills.

In other words, you need crisis survival skills anytime you have an impulsive, intense urge to do something that, in your better moments, you would never do. 

So generally, what sort of situations are we going to look for? Well, the first thing to do is look for situations where you’re trying to escape. You’re either trying to escape the situation or you’re trying to escape from your feelings. That’s usually when we have urges to do things that half the time make things worse. What are those things? Well think about what you have urges to do when you want to escape situations that you can’t solve. 

Well, sometimes what people want to do is they want to quit important things. If you wanted to quit things that you knew weren’t in your interest to quit, but you wanted to do it anyway and you had to figure out a way to get yourself not to quit. Or, have you ever had such… just a bad day or bad week and just decided to have sex with the next person that walks by. Now you know that’s not a good idea. You’re trying to get yourself not to do that anymore. Maybe it’s become kind of a habit with you.

Or, are you a person who throws tantrums? Lots of times have you noticed how you just start throwing tantrums, you get so angry, you get so upset and it just becomes a crisis all by itself. You’re trying to get yourself not to scream, to keep cool.

You know what some people do is they try to kill themselves. They get in a crisis situation and they can’t stand it. They decide to kill themselves. Now those are people who actually think that they’re not going to have a crisis if they’re dead. Just in case you’re thinking of that, which I certainly hope you are not, but I just want to remind you of one thing, just in case. There’s absolutely no evidence that killing yourself will help a crisis out. There’s no data whatsoever – it’s not been in the New York Times. You want to remind yourself of that. You know a crisis could be worse if you were dead. Who knows? You don’t. Neither do I. 

Some people take drugs. Are you one of those people? I hope not. But the urge to take drugs, especially if you’re a person who’s taken drugs in the past, well, that’s a crisis. You need crisis survival skills to get yourself through.

So think through. Maybe there’s other things that you’re thinking about that I haven’t mentioned. Just kind of review in your mind, when do you need these skills. 

Now my experience is, teaching people these skills, that you’re probably going to learn them a lot better if you take notes. So my advice to you is that before we get started you hit the pause button on this program. Get up, go get yourself some paper, get yourself a pen or a pencil, sit back down and hit the start button and get the program going. And while you’re doing that I’m going to go get myself ready. I’m going to get all my notes together. Get all my thinking clear. I’m going to be ready to roll as soon as you get back, I’ll be back and we’ll get going.

We’re going to go over two sets of skills in this program. The first set is Improve the Moment skills. And the second set is Pros & Cons.

This text is the unofficial transcript of Behavioral Tech, LLC.
Chaos to Freedom Skills Training Video. Posted with permission from Behavioral Tech.
Transcribed by Sylvia James, May 15, 2006