The Participate mindfulness skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Mindfulness and DBT: Participate

The “What” skills of Mindfulness in DBT

In the last two posts, I explored the first two “What” skills of mindfulness in DBT, Observe and Describe.

To review quickly, the “What” skills teach you what to actually do to practice mindfulness, and you practice each “What” skill one at a time.

The “What” skills are:

  • Observe
  • Describe
  • Participate


The Participate Mindfulness Skill

What does Participate mean in Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Participate is just as it sounds; it is throwing yourself completely into an activity, letting go of self-consciousness, judgements and fear.

Participating is the opposite of sitting on the sidelines and watching.

Most young children are great at participating, immersing themselves completely in play without inhibition.

Participate looks different depending on the activity.

For example:
If you’re in a classroom discussion, it means letting yourself participate fully in the conversation without worrying what your classmates think of you.
If you’re dancing, it means throwing yourself 100% into the dance, moving with the music, not worrying about how you look.

You can practice the Participate mindfulness skill during mundane everyday activities as well, like washing the dishes.

Instead of thinking about how much you hate washing the dishes, or planning what you’re going to do after you’re finished with the dishes, you immerse yourself completely in the activity of washing the dishes.

Participating fights feelings of alienation

Self-consciousness and self-criticism separates you from your experience.

This can lead to painful feelings of alienation from other people and from life in general. The Participate mindfulness skill helps you feel like you are a part of, not apart from.

Participate is also an antidote to feeling like you are sleepwalking through life or to chronic feelings of emptiness.

Not participating hurts; it keeps you forever on the outside, witnessing your life rather than actually living it.

When you Participate in DBT, you are fully immersed in whatever you are doing – instead of just going through the motions while thinking about something else.

Addictive Behavior is not Participating

If you struggle with an addiction, you may wonder if engaging in your addiction is a form of participating.

Addictive behaviors are often ritualized to such an extent that it can feel like you are being present in the moment.

This is not participating mindfully, though, because participating in DBT includes acting intuitively from Wise Mind, so your actions are in service of your long-term goals.


Participate is about your Experience

Remember, participating is not about the quality of what you are doing, it’s about the quality of your experience.

Throwing yourself into dancing doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be a fabulous dancer, but it does mean that you are going to have a fabulous time doing it.


To learn more about DBT’s Mindfulness practice, read:

The Mindfulness skills in DBT
Part 1 – Observe: The first Mindfulness “what” skill
Part 2 – Describe: The second Mindfulness “what” skill
More on the Mindfulness skills



Need help incorporating DBT Mindfulness skills into your life?

Call (415) 310-5142 to schedule a free phone consultation and learn more about individual and group DBT.