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DBT and Validation

Validation is a non-judgmental, empathetic understanding of why people think, believe, and behave a certain way.  It is an unconditional love of the soul of the person you are speaking to.  It is not indulgent, and it does not enable bad behavior or the consequences of bad behavior.

Of all the skills in DBT, validation is the skill least understood by clients and their families.  Many clients demand their loved ones practice validation to their standards. But as human beings, we are very fallible.  Even with the best of intentions, it can take a very long time to master this skill.

That being said, every child needs to be affirmed and reassured.  If that does not happen, protection strategies and compensatory measures take hold when the client needs them most.  Because of this, a child may find themselves emotionally stuck at the age when validation was not received. Over time, the child becomes an adult, still using these defense strategies to protect themselves.  Unfortunately, their triggering thoughts, feelings, and behaviors become a vicious cycle of suffering as these defense strategies fail to work.

Validation goes beyond just requirement for food, shelter, and other basic needs for survival. Validation is about love and acceptance.  More important it is about loving and accepting yourself.

DBT validation is mirroring self-love to a client who has no idea how to have self-love.  Cardwell Nuckols in The Ego-less Self explains it this way:

“…self-love is unconditional self-acceptance and self-caring. If we do not receive this message as a child, we will continue to look for self-acceptance from all the wrong places.”  We will also continue to be stuck with a child’s need to be accepted, feel secure, and able to survive.  Usually this results in attaching ourselves to the wrong people, places, and situations.

Validation is communicating clearly to others that you are paying attention to them, while remaining non-judgmental and empathetic.  You must then balance the facts with the truth of their situation.

Below is an example, that tested a therapist’s skills in validation.

A female client walks into the office in obvious distress, crying and anxious. Weeks ago, she had informed her boyfriend that when they broke up, she had had sex with a random man she didn’t know. She pursued him for weeks in an attempt to get back together, failing to inform him she had contracted herpes until after they had had sex. The news enraged him, and now the client was afraid of him.

I have used this example many times when I have spoken to large numbers of therapists. To date, only one has given the answer of why the client did this. It was not out of malicious intent, but a fear of abandonment. She wanted to bind him to her so he wouldn’t leave her.

Level 4 validation looks for the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a client that reveal how the current situation makes sense to them. It does not mean approving of a behavior, or that the client can escape the consequences of that behavior. In DBT Validation, we never validate facts or beliefs that are wrong. Believing the earth is flat does not make it so. You can believe everyone at work hates you, but facts must back up that belief. Validation clears the air for understanding so both client and therapist can work with the truth of the current situation in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

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Debra Meehl

Debra Meehl, DD Pastoral Counselor, DBT Trained Skills Trainer, Board Certified Hypnotist & President, Meehl Foundation Intenselevly Tained DBT Team

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