Category: Treatment - DBT


Sitting With Distress: Which Skills Are Adaptive During Exposure to Negative Emotions?

Sunday, November 19
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Aqua Salon A & B, Level 3, Aqua Level

Keywords: Emotion Regulation | DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) | Exposure
Presentation Type: Symposium

Exposure to negative emotions is central to learning emotion regulation skills within Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Previous findings suggest that avoidance of negative emotions is maladaptive (Chapman et al., 2006) and attending to and processing negative emotions may be adaptive for depressed patients (Feldman, 2009). However, it is unknown what specific DBT skills are more helpful during exposure to negative emotions across diagnoses. We examined which skills lead to greater changes in emotion dysregulation in a transdiagnostic sample with emotion dysregulation. For this study, 184 participants completed diagnostic interviews and the Difficulties with Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS; Gratz & Roemer, 2004). Then, they participated in an experimental task that involved inducing negative emotional arousal using autobiographical stressors. Participants were instructed to imagine the experience vividly as they listened to the stressors, and afterward were asked what they did when they experienced the thoughts, feelings, and sensations about the stressful experience. The DERS was administered pre and post stressor and the outcome variable was a change score derived from these two time points. We hypothesized that engaging in change skills (e.g. cognitive reappraisal) would result in greater improvement in emotion dysregulation. In line with our hypotheses, results from regression analyses showed that change-based skills such as “tried to change how I was thinking so I would feel better” predicted greater reductions in emotion dysregulation over time (b = 3.28, t(182) = -3.32, p =001). Other skills such as “continued to think about the stressful situations,” predicted smaller changes in emotion dysregulation (b = -2.30, t(182) = -2.00, p = .047). These results suggest that when people with emotion dysregulation expose themselves to negative emotions and learn to sit with them, it may be more adaptive to use skills that actively attempt to improve their mood through change skills. Based on these findings, this talk will discuss which specific DBT skills would be more helpful for treating emotion dysregulation transdiagnostically. 



Kibby McMahon

Graduate Student
Duke University


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Sitting With Distress: Which Skills Are Adaptive During Exposure to Negative Emotions?

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