DBT Skills to Know - What is a “Wise Mind”?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), is a specific type of psychotherapy under the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy umbrella that was curated for Borderline Personality Disorder. However, this type of therapy has been proven to be successful in the treatment of a myriad of other mental health conditions, including but not limited to anyone struggling with: 

  • Overwhelming emotions.
  • Impulsive behavior.
  • Self injury.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Eating disorders.
  • PTSD and other trauma disorders. 
  • Challenging, conflict-heavy relationships.


One of the critical components of DBT treatment is the activation and understanding of the “Wise Mind” which is a concept based on the acceptance of different mental states including the Emotional Mind, Rational Mind, and Wise Mind. 


The Emotion Mind

Everyone in their lifetime will struggle with moments where they become driven by emotion, moodiness, or reactions, which is the manifestation of the Emotion Mind. This mental state is not driven by rational thought, but instead by feelings, mood, and impulses. 


This mental state occurs most often when we allow our emotions to control our thinking, which can create a distorted view of reality. Some examples of this include: 

  • Fighting every time you disagree with others
  • Impulsively spending or traveling without planning 
  • Doing things purely for fun without analyzing their consequences
  • Snapping at others for no logical reason 


The Rational Mind

The direct opposite of the Emotion Mind is the Rational Mind, which is a mental state in which the individual is driven by reason, logic, and fact. In this state, feelings are not a decision making factor. This is the most pragmatic state of mind.  

The Rational Mind is activated when you can work through problems based in logic, reason, and rational analysis of whatever problem you’re facing. In this state, you might:  

  • Measure ingredients 
  • Plan your expenses for the month 
  • Look up your flight schedule prior to travel 
  • Study for testing


While you might think that the Rational Mind is the end goal, the reality is that too much time in either Emotional or Rational Mind states can create frustration, interpersonal tension, and inner conflict. This is where the “Wise Mind” concept is born: the ideal overlap of the two other mental states, the Wise Mind is the delicate balance between reason and emotion that cultivates a middle path driven by both emotional sensitivity and rational thought. This is an intuitive, observational, mindful state of being rooted in balance: the core principle of DBT. 


Fighting Extremes

For most individuals, there is a natural proclivity to swing between pure reason and pure emotion. But when looking at our problems and values from the extremes of either lens, we neglect the big picture, which can isolate us and create a sense of emotional extremes that leaves us spinning. 

Chaotic, disorganized thoughts lead to choices made from an Emotion Mind, where pragmatic, logical thoughts can drive choices made from the Rational Mind state, in which we neglect our emotional needs and wellbeing. The integration of these two extremes is where we discover our “Wise Mind”. 

The Wise Mind is the key point of overlap between emotion and reason, which cultivates our intuition. The founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, once explained the wise mind as “the part of [you] that can know and experience truth….. It is almost always quiet, it has a certain peace… it is like a deep well in the ground. ” 


You may see your Wise Mind at work if 

  • You focus on breathing in and out 
  • You step back to calmly analyze a situation 
  • You have an absolute sense of right and wrong with a decision you are making (no doubt or dread)
  • You feel you grasp the whole picture rather than fixating on certain parts
  • You have a deep sense of “the right choice” that isn’t influenced by pure emotion or pure logic. 

This “middle ground” called the Wise Mind relies deeply on our intuition, which is a sense that defies reason and goes beyond sense perception. The reality is that our intuition is driven by a subconscious integration of  “direct experience, immediate cognition, and the grasping of the meaning, significance, or truth of an event without relying on intellectual analysis” (Linehan, 1993, p. 214).

Some of us may experience our Wise Mind through a “gut feeling” or “small voice” that persists in our mind. We know that when we act from our Wise Mind, we are doing what is best for us, our mental and physical health, and our goals. 

The goal of DBT is to help us hone in on the Wise Mind, and to make following that intuition second nature - a natural, instinctive process. Practicing Mindfulness is a significant part of how we learn to tune into our Wise Mind over the course of DBT treatment. 

Get started today on your journey to the understanding and activation of your own Wise Mind with DBT therapy!


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