An Essential Therapy Skill: Wise Mind from DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short, has many skills to improve your life. However, it’s most essential skill is Wise Mind. In this article,…


Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short, has many skills to improve your life. However, it’s most essential skill is Wise Mind.

In this article, you will learn more about what Wise Mind is – and how to get into this state.

What is DBT and Wise Mind?

Marsha Linehan developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in the 1970s. She did this to support women who were severely depressed (including those who were self-harming and/or contemplating suicide).

DBT has been found to help with many concerns including:

That being said, DBT has four modules which can be applied to improve life in general. DBT can be thought of as a model of skills for a healthy life. And Wise Mind is the concept that allows you to live in a balanced state of mind to truly thrive.

The States of Mind

The fundamental theory of DBT is called “States of Mind” theory. Here we can see that at any given time human beings are in one of three states of mind. (You – and I – are in one right now!)

These 3 States of Mind are:

  • Reasonable Mind – This is the purely logical mind, the place you can weigh pros/cons, and balance a budget without emotion for example
  • Emotional Mind – This is the place where emotions contribute to emotional thoughts/beliefs i.e., “I’m not good enough” and lead to actions that further hurt a situation like yelling at a partner, getting drunk, or self-sabotage
  • Wise Mind – This is where emotions are balanced with fact and logic. There is no problem with emotions rather it’s what we do with it that can be helpful or unhelpful. In Wise Mind, you use your emotions as information but respond to them in a way that helps the situation rather than worsens it.
Learn more with: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook

Wise Mind is for Everyone

The concept of getting into Wise Mind is helpful for every human being. After all, human beings in general have the ability to react to emotions especially when triggered in a way that makes problems worse.

Like if you get overwhelmed, you may procrastinate on a project which of course, just makes you more overwhelmed. This is an example of being in Emotional Mind by the way. The overwhelm is not the problem. It’s acting on the urge to procrastinate which makes things worse.

Wise Mind in Action

Because of the human tendency to sometimes react to our thoughts and feelings in a way that escalates problems, Wise Mind is the solution for everyone. Remember, this is where you balance your emotions with logic.

To get into Wise Mind, which helps situations, a person will want to notice their Emotional Mind urges but pull in logical, Reasonable Mind thinking. When they check the facts, they can then act in Wise Mind.

An Example of Wise Mind

Here’s a Wise Mind response to the same example of getting overwhelmed by a project and wanting to procrastinate:

1. “I notice that I’m dreading this project. It feels like too much work. I planned on getting started today but now I’m finding a million excuses to procrastinate like needing to clean or organize my place.”

    2. “When I think about this logically, I notice that if I procrastinate, I’m just going to get more overwhelmed. This will create a vicious cycle where I’m more and more anxious and continue to procrastinate. Then I’ll need to pull an all-nighter to get the project done.”

    3. “Logically, it’s better for me to just get started. I will set a timer for 40 minutes to work which is better than doing nothing. If I don’t want to keep working, I can stop. Or if I’m feeling more motivated, I can keep working on the project as I planned to spend hours working on this today.”

    In this example, the person avoided making things worse in Emotional Mind by checking the facts of the situation (that they’ll feel worse if they procrastinate). They found a way to get into Wise Mind without being too hard on themselves (a timer of 40 minutes where they hold themselves accountable to work).

    How to Get into Wise Mind

    The first step to getting into Wise Mind is always this: Practice Mindfulness.

    My favorite definition of mindfulness comes from Jon-Kabat Zinn who describes mindfulness as paying attention, intentionally, to the present moment without judging it.

    You cannot get out of Emotional Mind thinking, urges, and actions without noticing first that you are in Emotional Mind. All that’s needed is for you to notice, without judging it as “bad,” that you are in Emotional Mind. (Judging your state of mind can keep you stuck in Emotional Mind thinking and feeling.)

    wise mind dbt

    Skills to Get You into Wise Mind

    All of the other skills which make up Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are skills to get you into Wise Mind.

    These skills come from 4 modules:

    1. Mindfulness – the skills which help you practicing paying full attention to the present moment without judgment
    2. Distress Tolerance Skills – the strategies which help you deal with uncomfortable emotions and tolerate them so you don’t make things worse when you feel bad
    3. Emotional Regulation Skills – the strategies that allow you to stay feeling emotionally balanced day to day rather than feeling like you’re on a roller coaster
    4. Interpersonal Skills – the strategies which help you communicate effectively with others to ensure you respect yourself and others to develop, and maintain, healthier, interdependent relationships

    Practicing Wise Coping Skills

    Describing all these individual skills is outside of the scope of this article but you can begin to learn them with the article, DBT Skills for Distress Tolerance Which Seriously Make Life Better.

    You may also want to check out the book, The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance by Matthew McKay PhD, Jeffrey C. Wood PsyD, and Jeffrey Brantley MD.

    Working with a DBT Therapist

    If you find that you want more support to get into Wise Mind, you may want to work with a DBT therapist. You may find one in your area on the Psychology Today directory.

    If you’re looking for an accessible, affordable therapy option, you may choose to request a DBT therapist with BetterHelp. And with this link, you will get 15% off your first month with BetterHelp.

    Progress Not Perfection

    Whether you are choosing to practice skills to get into Wise Mind on your own or with a therapist, you cannot be in Wise Mind all the time.

    As human beings, we are naturally imperfect. And learning to accept this and give ourselves grace is Wise!

    And DBT honors this natural imperfection. The goal of Wise Mind is to get into this state – and stay in this state – the majority of the time.

    80/20 Rule

    There’s an 80/20 rule for Wise Mind. We want to live in Wise Mind 80% of the time. The 20% is the room to give ourselves grace for the fact that as humans we will all make mistakes and react negatively at times.

    And if right now you aren’t in Wise Mind most of the time i.e., you stuff your emotions (with work, food, alcohol, etc.), you ignore them, or you are really reactive or up and down emotionally, that’s ok! The most important thing is to notice this, without judgment, and every single time you get into Wise Mind is a success!

    Progress not perfection.

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    About The Author

    Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

    Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

    Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

    If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.

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