The Describe mindfulness skill in DBT

Mindfulness and DBT: Describe

The “What” skills of mindfulness in DBT
In last week’s post, I explained the first “What” skill of mindfulness in DBT, which is Observe.

Now I am going to explain the second “What” skill, which is Describe.


The Describe Mindfulness Skill

Describe builds on Observe.

Observe is just bare-bones attention – noticing without adding a story.

Describe is putting words to what you Observe, whether that’s a sensation, emotion or thought.

Here’s the tricky part: to practice the Describe mindfulness skill in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), you describe by just sticking to the facts, without adding your own interpretations or assumptions.

When you Describe, you label emotions as emotions, thoughts as thoughts and sensations as sensations, without adding any:

  • Opinions
  • Labels
  • Concepts
  • Assumptions
  • Judgements

The Describe mindfulness skill is a great tool to help you not mistake your every thought or feeling for a fact.

For example: Feeling like you are unlovable doesn’t mean that it’s true.

If you are emotionally sensitive, this skill is key in reducing reactivity.
Describe helps you not jump to conclusions that make you feel bad about yourself or your relationships without checking the facts.

Let’s look at an example of Describe in action

Imagine you’re at a coffee shop with a good friend.
Your friend keeps shifting in her seat and turning her head while you talk which makes you feel anxious.

You then begin to interpret her behavior and jump to conclusions like she’s mad at you, or bored, or doesn’t care about you anymore.

If you mistake your interpretation of her behavior as factual, you may start to get angry or hurt, thinking “What did I do wrong, why is she mad at me?”

“This always happens, my friends turn on me, I can’t trust anyone,” creating a painful story in your head that changes the way you interact with your friend.

The Describe mindfulness skill keeps you from weaving negative (or positive) stories about what you notice without checking the facts.

The facts in this example are that your friend is shifting in her seat and turning her head – that’s it.

Sticking with the facts might peak your curiosity about what’s going on with your friend, prompting you to talk with her about what you’re noticing. Who knows what you’ll find out – maybe her back hurts or she’s worried about running into an ex or something completely different.

Whatever your friend tells you, you’ve saved yourself a lot of unnecessary suffering by not buying into your perception of the facts.


Read more on the Mindfulness practice in these posts:

DBT Mindfulness practice
Part 1 – Mindfulness: Observe
Part 3 – Mindfulness: Participate
More on the Mindfulness practice


Wondering about how DBT mindfulness skills can help you?

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