The Core Skills of DBT: Wise Mind

Therapists — Learn a DBT Skill:
What Wise Mind is. How to find it. How to teach it.

The more we practice mindfulness, or observing, the easier it becomes to access the DBT skill called Wise Mind. Wise Mind is a deep knowing — a quiet voice of guidance found at the meeting place of reason and emotions. In neurological terms, this is the balance of the limbic system (emotions), with the pre-frontal cortex (reasoning). DBT proposes that this “knowing the right thing to do” is available to all of us, when we know to look for it beneath the turbulence of emotions and judgmental thoughts. It is a place of wisdom, guidance, and clarity. It can be used as a resource in the therapeutic process and a valuable skill in our client’s lives. Sometimes the Wise Mind comes spontaneously as an intuition, and sometimes we can invoke it.

To learn how to invoke Wise Mind for yourself and, if you’re a therapist, how to teach Wise Mind to your clients:

To intentionally access the Wise Mind, it can be helpful to first guide yourself or your clients to soften the rigidity of cognitive/rational processes, and quiet emotional intensity with a visualization:

 Accessing Wise Mind Exercise

  • You can use this exercise to guide yourself or your clients into the state of Wise Mind:
  • Think of a situation you’d like guidance on, and formulate a question around this situation. For example, “How can I be more loving to my partner?” or “Is it the right time to quit my job?”.
  • Close your eyes and let your attention rest on your breath. Notice the flow of in-breath and out-breath. If thoughts arise, let them drift away and come back to simply noticing the sensation of breathing. Begin to time breathing with counting. Inhale for the count of three, exhale to five. Notice how the in-breath naturally follows the out-breath without effort. Let your awareness rest on the moment right at the end of the exhale. Without holding your breath, begin to drop your awareness into the pause, the emptiness, at the end of the out-breath. With the next inhale ask the question you originally formulated and notice what arises in the pause at the end of the exhale. It could be an image, a thought, an impulse, or a direct response.
  • Hold this response in your awareness and feel how your body, heart, and mind respond to this guidance.
  • This exercise can be used by anyone. We all have Wise Minds to consult. If you are a therapist, consult your own Wise Mind with questions about a client.

Mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat Zinn

Lori Schwanbeck, MFT, CHT

About Lori Schwanbeck, MFT, CHT

is a licensed psychotherapist whose passion for nature, beauty, awareness, and sensory experience infuses her personal and professional life. Loriís clinical work is influenced by her training in Hakomi, DBT, neuroscience, and movement therapies.