Viewpoint: Marsha Linehan


Back in February, I got the chance to talk to Marsha Linehan, the developer of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (read her bio here in PDF form), which was originally aimed at treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD). I asked her a few burning questions such as: it’s been written that there is a high comorbidity rate of BPD and substance use disorders. What are the implications of this in terms of treatment? DBT is extremely popular in clinical settings right now—has any part of this explosive growth given you pause? And finally, how do we as mindfulness-based clinicians grow the field?

Her responses were that she hasn’t tried to grow the field of mindfulness-based clinical interventions. DBT, she told me, was not straight mindfulness, but mindfulness skills. She stated,

“Mindfulness may be a trend right now, there’s no doubt about it.  The main thing to hold us back at this moment  is the absence of  data and limited research. They’ll do research. It’s not hard to research.  There just isn’t much right now, and until there is, I won’t try to grow [the clinical mindfulness] field.  I colead several retreats a year with therapists….the only people I only teach mindfulness to are looking for personal mindfulness practices. I’m a mindfulness teacher and a zen teacher. With my clients, however, I teach mindfulness skills, not straight mindfulness. We don’t know why it’s effective. What we know is that the group of skills are effective and mediate against relapse [of various clinical disorders].”

As for the correlation between borderline personality disorder, she stated, “Well, many things are comorbid with borderline and with substance abuse. It’s not surprising to see these two conditions occurring frequently together.”

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