DBT: Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or Diabolical Behaviour Therapy Part 3: Willingness vs. Wilfulness

Yep, it’s time for Part 3 of my DBT posts. This one is going to deal with an aspect of DBT that really stuck in my throat, and still does – the concept of willingness vs. wilfulness.

I’ve copied and pasted some points by Brent Menninger regarding wilfulness and willingness from the DBT self-help website (http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/willfulness.html)

  • Willingness = DOING JUST WHAT IS NEEDED in each situation, in an unpretentious way. A wonderful outcome of Willingness is Effectiveness.
  • Willingness = listening very closely to your WISE MIND, acting from your inner self.
  • Willingness = ALLOWING into awareness your connection to the universe – to the earth, to the floor you are standing on, to the chair you are sitting on, to the person you are talking to.
  • Wilfulness is SITTING ON YOUR HANDS when action is needed, refusing to make changes that are needed.
  • Wilfulness is GIVING UP.
  • Wilfulness is the OPPOSITE OF “DOING WHAT WORKS,” being effective.
  • Wilfulness is trying to FIX every situation.
  • Wilfulness is REFUSING TO TOLERATE the moment

Apart from the utter corniness of a lot of the above re connection to the universe, etc., I can see how a lot of the above make sense but, I don’t know about any of you but some of the above still irk me. How is wilfulness giving up? The reason I’m still alive and on this road to recovery is that at times in my life, wilfulness is what has kept me going through dark times, allowed me to continue to push on for what is right, to progress through education and training to become a solicitor. Wilfulness has, in part, kept me alive when all I wanted to do was end my life. To me, DBT was turning my belief of holding on tight on its head.

I understand that to be wilful and sticking to a stance that is not helpful is something to be addressed but the whole of DBT therapy has this willingness vs. wilfulness thread running through it – you need to be willing to try different exercises etc., even when you know they are ridiculous. Yes, willingness was needed a lot but at what point does it become a barrier? I once refused to do an exercise, which was just beyond silly, I then had to spend the rest of that particular mindfulness exercise ‘reflecting on my wilfulness’! Luckily, I was able to address this with my therapist and was able to move on from my resulting anger.

I found the concept of willingness vs. wilfulness patronising and frustrating, and I can see how it could be seen as a way of coercing compliance with an idea/approach without necessarily addressing whether that idea/approach would be appropriate for an individual. I was very fortunate to be in a DBT programme with experienced, competent therapists. My individual therapist was brilliant in allowing me to question, and in addressing queries and difficulties I had with the programme and DBT. However, I can see how such a concept could become dangerous really in the hands of less confident and competent therapists. It worries me that some people receive DBT via professionals who have not got a proper grounding in therapeutic techniques. I hear, anecdotally, of professionals, not already trained in other therapeutic methods, conducting a programme of DBT or individual therapy having just gone on a short course about DBT. I wonder whether these professionals will then have the confidence and competence to be able to tailor a therapy to an individual. I can see how a very useful therapy can become ‘unstuck’; how an individual could easily become disillusioned. The willingness vs. wilfulness could have been for me the deal breaker. I wonder if it has contributed in other people finding DBT a therapy as whole being unsuitable for them when in fact it might not have been if it was dealt with in the hands of experienced and skilled therapists.

I don’t really have much to say on this topic but it’s important to me that in this series on DBT that I am honest. Yes, DBT has been incredibly helpful to me but there are aspects I struggled with and disagreed with and can see how some people become so anti-DBT. However, to look at one aspect and then write-off a whole therapy with a myriad of approaches within it would be wilful and ineffective 😉



About Carrie Quinn

I'm a former solicitor whose life was turned upside down due to problems with my mental health. I'm now aiming towards recovery, which to me means rebuilding a meaningful life - not necessarily disorder free.
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