Futures Recovery Healthcare

DBT Decoded: Validation


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“You really get me” is the type of phrase you might hear from your best friend. In fact, it’s indicative of the nature of best friends. You understand each other, confide in one another, and communicate in a way that puts you both at ease. You have history together, and that history helps you accurately interpret each other’s thoughts and feelings. Whether you recognize it or not, most of your favorable relationships are enhanced by acts of validation. Within the teaching of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), conscious validation is often called upon to help clients improve interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness skills. Consistent with the power of dialectical thinking – how seemingly oppositional concepts actually work hand in hand – outward-facing validation of others is often balanced by the inward validation of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and motivations (self-validation).

Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, describes six levels of validation, with each “level” offering a different tactic for validating someone. With regard to interpersonal effectiveness, validation is useful whether we seek to better a relationship with a loved one, a friend, a coworker, or even someone we’ve just met. Validation is so powerful that it can be used to diffuse a hostile or escalating situation – since validating someone’s point of view helps to reduce frustration and stress. Let’s decode the six levels with regard to validating others.

  1. Mindful engagement – Active listening is a good example of this first level of validation. Being present and showing interest nonverbally and/or verbally, such as communicating your understanding by way of nodding, making eye contact and asking appropriate questions. (“I hear you! What’d you do after she told you that?”)
  2. Accurate reflection – Demonstrate to the person you’re listening to that their message is being received accurately. If you choose to disagree, at least the individual knows that you are listening with intention, and that helps. (“I just heard you say that your boss really likes you, but you don’t think you’re doing a good job. Are you being unjustly hard on yourself?”)
  3. Reading cues – This involves some guesswork, and when you do this it’s best that you verbalize what you’re hearing, so that you can be corrected if you’ve misunderstood. You may think someone is upset with you, when they’re simply not feeling well, or vice versa. But the fact that you inquire and help someone communicate, when they may be having trouble doing so, enhances the relationship. (“You look unhappy. Is something bothering you?”)
  4. Historical perspective – Drawing on your knowledge of someone’s prior experiences, you can lend perspective that helps the individual connect the dots about how they’re feeling or how they’re processing new information. (“Maybe you don’t trust your new girlfriend because your previous girlfriend cheated on you?”)
  5. Assuring reasonableness – Letting someone know that their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are normal and quite reasonable. This provides reassurance, comfort, and healthy perspective. (“I see your frustration. Most people would be annoyed at spending 30 minutes on hold with the cable company.”)
  6. Respectful honesty – Providing feedback that lets a person know that you respect them enough to “keep it real.” This level of validation is best delivered with an accompaniment of radical acceptance, along with a nonjudgmental stance – taking into account that everyone has their strengths and limitations. Validating someone with honesty and respect means treating them as you’d want someone to treat you in a confidential relationship. (“I understand why you said that, but I think you could have had a better result if you used a softer tone?”)

Regardless of which techniques you use to validate someone, the results are bound to be beneficial. By the way, thank you for reading this. We realize that you’re busy and we’re grateful for your attention. Feels good, right?

The compassionate and highly trained, Futures Recovery Healthcare team strives to provide education, support, and behavioral therapies in conjunction with medications at the proper times in order to promote a successful recovery from a substance abuse disorder. Call today to learn about our specialized and effective treatment programs.


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