Info on Dr. Linehan’s Life, Work and “Building a Life Worth Living”

This webpage is for visitors who need to find essential information on Dr. Linehan’s work, including her most recent book “Building a Life Worth Living.”

About Dr. Linehan:

Marsha Linehan is Professor Emeritus of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington. She is the developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment originally developed for the treatment of suicidal behaviors and since expanded to treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other severe and complex mental disorders, particularly those that involve serious emotion dysregulation.  In comparison to all other clinical interventions for suicidal behaviors, DBT is the only treatment that has been shown effective in multiple trials across several independent research sites. It has been shown both effective in reducing suicidal behavior and cost-effective in comparison to both standard treatment and community treatments delivered by expert therapists. It is currently the gold-standard treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, a condition characterized by pervasive and difficult-to-manage emotion dysregulation.

Dr. Linehan retired from the university in 2019 and is not available for interviews.

Quotes from Dr. Linehan’s Memoir:

“My life is something of a mystery because, to this day, I have no idea how I descended into hell so swiftly and completely, at the age of eighteen.  I hope that my success in getting out of hell and staying out will bring hope to those who are still in hell. My basic belief is that if I can do it, others can do it, too.” (page 11)

“I know what hell feels like, but even now I can’t find words to describe it. Every word that comes to mind is so utterly inadequate to describe how terrible hell is.  Even saying it is terrible communicates nothing about the experience. When I reflect on my life, I often realize that there is no amount of happiness in the universe that could ever balance the searing, excruciating emotional pain I experienced those many years ago.” (page 23)

“The day when I was sitting in the piano room by myself, a lonely soul in the midst of other lonely souls in the unit, I am not sure what made me do what I did next.  Whatever it was, there and then I made a vow to God that I would get myself out of hell and that, once I did, I would go back into hell and get others out. That vow has guided and controlled most of my life since then.” (page 29)

“DBT skills fall into four categories [mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness], each of which is designed to solve different set of problems.  The first two offer the path to acceptance of reality as it is, while the last two, taken together, are change skills that help clients embrace the changes they need to make in their lives.” (page 169)

The development of DBT “…involved much trial and error, false starts, unexpected insights, and lucky breaks as the many different components of the treatment steadily coalesced into a coherent therapy.  Ultimately, I was able to conduct a strictly controlled clinical trial that demonstrated that DBT is effective in helping highly suicidal people live lives experienced as worth living, the results of which I published in 1991. Until this point there had been no effective therapy for this population; now there was.” (page 173)

Helpful Resources:

  • In 2016, Dr. Linehan gave a public lecture on DBT titled “Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Where We Were, Where We Are and Where Are We Going”
  • In 2007, Dr. Linehan gave a public lecture on suicide titled “Suicidal Individuals: Evaluation, Therapies, and Ethics”

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