Why is Mindfulness Helpful?


Mindfulness is one of the core skills of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD), self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts, depression, and other issues of intense emotion. In DBT, clients spend the first two weeks of every module of skills classes focused on the practice of mindfulness.

How does mindfulness contribute to the great effectiveness of DBT? How does practicing mindfulness lead to symptom reduction? One recent study considered what facets of mindfulness contribute to symptom reduction in persons with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

The researchers used a tool called the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire. This measure breaks down mindfulness into five different attributes. These attributes are:

  • observing

  • describing

  • acting with awareness

  • nonjudging of inner experience

  • nonreactivity to inner experience

In DBT skills classes, participants practice mindfulness in an attempt to develop these skills. The learn to observe their surroundings, and their internal emotional and cognitive world. They learn to describe what is going on around and within themselves, in a non-judgmental way, without a strong reaction. In turns they learn to act with awareness, making more intentional, purposeful decisions.

These mindfulness subskills all go together but are some of them more related to the reduction in BPD symptoms that comes from learning DBT skills?  It turns out,

Acting with awareness and nonjudging of inner experience seems to be especially important. By acting with increased awareness, persons with BPD take more control and are able to make more effective, less emotion-driven decisions. By judging one’s inner experiences less, including one’s thoughts and emotions, persons with BPD are able to experience negative thoughts and emotions without it resulting in a cascade of self-judgement and further negative emotion. Participants improving in these mindfulness skills also showed lover levels of depression and overall distress.