DBT Video Text: Mindfulness Introduction

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Do you often feel that your emotions or impulses are in control and not you? Is your mind often filled with worries about the future? Or, anxieties about the past? Do you feel like you can’t live in the present? Would you like to be free, free to live according to your own beliefs? Would like to deepen your ability to consciously participate in your own life? Any of this is true for you, this program’s for you.

Welcome. I’m Marsha Linehan. I’m a professor at the University of Washington and I’m a research psychologist and I do research to develop treatments. Basically I develop treatments for people who have problems.

I’m going to be talking to you in this program about a set of skills, not really that I developed. These are a set of skills I’m going to teach you but they are a set of skills that were taught to me. They were so valuable for me that I started thinking maybe they would be valuable for someone else. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what exactly had I learned and how, exactly, could I teach it to someone else. And that’s what this program is about. And the name of the skills that I’m going to be talking about is Mindfulness Skills. So that’s the focus of this whole program – Mindfulness.


Mindfulness refers to the quality of attention or the quality of awareness or the quality of presence that you bring to every day life. It’s a way of living your life awake. Which is to say, with your eyes open, instead of your eyes closed. You know most people live their lives as if their eyes were closed a good part of the time.

You know life; it’s a lot like walking across the room with the lights off. There’s lots of furniture. You’re trying to get from one side to the other. Mindfulness is when you’re trying to get there as effectively and as skillfully as you can. You turn the lights on so that you can see the furniture. You’ve got to admit if you turn the lights on and you can see the furniture, your chances of getting from one side to the other without tripping over the furniture is a lot higher than if you keep your lights off. A non-mindful life is the same thing as trying to get across a room with the lights off.

DBT Mindfulness: A door in a dark room opens to a lit hallway.

Mindfulness as a practice is thousands of years old. In fact it exists in every single religious and spiritual tradition that I have ever heard of. Both western and eastern spiritual tradition – it just goes by different names. Now, what’s interesting about it is and what is interesting to me also a scientist, is that although that’s the spiritual tradition, and mindfulness has been there for years, what’s been happening over the last, I don’t know, ten years or so, maybe fifteen, there’s been an emerging tradition in western science that’s been looking at the very same practice.

So you find now in psychology also a really big emphasis on the practice of mindfulness. The good thing about this is that what you find if you start looking at the spiritual tradition and if you look at the sort of western science tradition, is that they both start saying exactly the same thing. In other words, they’re coming up with the same insights. And that’s what I’m going to talk about somewhat in this program, is the insights that you can get from the eastern and western spiritual traditions and the insights you can get from western science.

What are Mindfulness Skills? Well, there are 2 kinds. There’s what you do, and how you do it.

What are the ‘what’ skills? Observing, describing, participating. Now the one thing about the what skills that I’m going to ask you to remember is that, when it comes to what you’re doing, you can only do one thing at a time, if you are being mindful. Part of being mindful is ‘one thing at a time’. So we’re going to focus here on three ‘what’s’ but we’re going to do it one at a time. 

Now I’m going to have you practicing with me as we go through.  And as we go through, you try to do one thing at a time. 

How many things are you doing right now? Have you gotten up to get a piece of paper to make notes?  If you haven’t, you don’t want to get up and get a piece of paper to take notes while I’m talking – that would be 2 things at a time.  So get up and pause this program. Go get yourself some paper, get a pencil, come back.  When you come back, get it started again.

The good news is, watching a program and taking notes is like going to a class and taking notes.  It’s a complex thing, but its one thing at a time. So you can do that. Are you ready?