Marsha Linehan is a psychologist who created an outstanding therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and has improved and quite literally helped save the lives of people who were until then, considered untreatable, hopeless. People whose self-harming behaviours were persistent and extreme often leading to suicide.
I heard about her while studying Contemplative Psychology at Naropa University. DBT was fascinating to me because it took what I considered a boring old fashioned behavioral approach, added mindfulness and some other elements and was remarkably successful. Plus, Linehan brought mindfulness meditation into academic psychology, tested it rigorously and found it to be very helpful. She was at the very beginning of the new so called Third Wave of cognitive behavioral therapies, which all bring in elements of meditation to their approaches (eg Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)).
In researching DBT for a paper looking at DBT as a possible therapy for people with chronic pain I read a fascinating transcript of an interview with Linehan where she described how she came to do what she was doing. She was a devout Catholic and a practicing psychologist and she realized she needed to learn to meditate to save her own life first. She nearly went to a Catholic monastery and then ended up practicing Zen. Zen was never mentioned in the academic discussions of DBT, just “mindfulness”. She spoke in the interview in 2007 of starting out wanting to help the hardest cases and honestly, to me she sounded like her life was devoted to the service of others, in the highest sense, like a bodhisattva or saint- and it has been. However, this article in the New York Times describes that after 30 odd years of clinical work, Linehan has “come out” as a suffering the same extreme symptoms that her therapy was designed to help. There is a video where she describes her early psycho-spiritual experience where she found herself saying ” I love myself”, her personal experience of Radical Acceptance. Linehan is now 68 years old.
The quote below shows her story but up until very recently, the last sentence was not spoken. Now she reveals where her compassionate action in the world comes from, from radical acceptance of self as well as a deep commitment to serving others.
“I decided to get supersuicidal people, the very worst cases, because I figured these are the most miserable people in the world — they think they’re evil, that they’re bad, bad, bad — and I understood that they weren’t,” she said. “I understood their suffering because I’d been there, in hell, with no idea how to get out.”
click here for the full article: Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Struggle – NYTimes.com.