dbt group notes: participate skill


As Marsha says, “The focus of participating is to experience one’s unity with the universe.’ When you fully engage, you are fully connected.

This guided meditation is recommended by Marsha Lineman as a way of practicing the Participate skill. Let it bring you closer to the world that immediately surrounds you.

Acceptance By the Chair A Guided Meditation for Gratitude/The Patience of Ordinary Things


Marsha recommends reading this poem as part of learning the Participate skill. “It highlights the idea that love and acceptance are all around us. The point here is to let go of rigid ideas about where we can find love, respect and generosity.”

Sometimes, poetry can be a wonderful way to evoke the felt experience of practicing a skill. As you reflect on “The Patience of Ordinary Things” by Pat Schneider, the invitation is to let yourself experience that sense of connectedness with the world around you. Fully participate with the poem.



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

From the DBT skills training manual: The Participate skill is about throwing yourself completely into activities of the current moment. Do not separate yourself from what is going on in the moment. Become one with whatever you are doing, completely forgetting yourself. Throw your attention into the moment. Act intuitively from Wise Mind. Do what is needed in each situation. Go with the Flow. Respond with spontaneity.

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

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

Participating is incompatible with self-consciousness. When we become what we are doing, there is a merging of actions and awareness, so that we are no longer aware of ourselves as separate from what we are doing.

Group Question: Can you think of a time in the last few years (or more recently) where you engaged in an activity completely? Immersed yourself entirely in that activity? With a childlike lack of self-consciousness?

(And isn’t it wonderful! To escape your inner critic and shed that self consciousness?)

Imagine dancing with complete abandon. Not worrying about what anyone thinks. Just being one with the music and the movement of your body.

Participate looks different depending on the activity. If you are in a classroom discussion, it means letting yourself fully participate in the conversation without worrying what your classmates think of you. If you are dancing, it means throwing yourself 100% into the dance, moving with the music, not worrying about how you look.

You can practice the Participate 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 is incompatible with a sense of exclusion. Participating fights feelings of Alienation. Self-consciousness and self criticism separate you from your experience. When we become what we are doing, we are no longer aware of ourselves as separate from what we are doing or from our environment. We lose awareness of the separation of ourselves and everything else. We forget ourselves, and thus forget ourselves as outside or inside.


Participate is also an antidote to feeling like you are sleepwalking through life or consumed with 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.

Group Discussion: Learning the habit of NOT participating: I (Diana) grew up overseas, in Jakarta, Manila and Managua. As a friend once said, “Wow, other than Lagos, those are some of the worst cities on the planet.” (Especially in the 70s and 80s.) The trauma of my childhood trained me to be always absent from the present, bidding time till I was back in the United States. It took me years, even after returning to America to learn how to be present with my current experience. I was so used to vacating the present.

Group Question: In your life, are there situations that taught you to be absent? To avoid the present moment?

In participating , we are present to our own lives and the lives of loved ones. When we become what we are doing, we do not miss our own lives. We also do not miss being part of the lives of others. Compassion and love, towards ourselves or others, requires our presence.


Sometimes stories can help you understand and access a skill.


I hate board games.  I hate dice games.  I hate card games.  The whole business of competition and out strategizing your opponent stresses me out.  Growing up, I also hated my maternal grandfather.  He was an arrogant alcoholic that was fond of making children drink.  His favorite family anecdote was when my mother was eight years old at one of his cocktail parties and she had shrieked at him, “I don’t want any gin in my 7-Up!” And that was the least of his crimes. 

We went to visit him once a year.  The entire visit was an unpleasant ordeal. One of the worst parts was the forced game playing.  My grandfather was a big fan of the craps tables in Las Vegas.  He had a regular poker game.  He loved making big bets.  But he also relished small bets.

My sister and I were required to stake our meager allowances in his winner-takes-all version of Yatzee.  We had to participate in endless shake-downs around Gin Rummy, not to mention the mandatory family poker games (I think he enjoyed taking my dad’s money just about as much as he enjoyed taking money from the grandkids).  Invariably I would end up in debt to the house, because running out of money was no excuse to stop playing.  Nope.  You still had to keep playing, so you could stake household chores against his money.   I would end up cleaning up pinecones from the backyard, or doing the dishes, or filing papers in his extensive filing cabinets to pay off my gambling debts.  My Grandfather tended to think of the women in our family as his personal secretarial pool.

In the ensuing years until I was in DBT, I avoided games like they were a dreaded contagion.  Sometimes this could get embarrassing, my reaction seemed so unreasonable to jovial game players. 

Then years ago, my daughter’s girl scout troop leader, Angie, invited me  and my two kids to a New Year’s Eve gathering, which was really an anime viewing party for a gaggle of nerdy teenage girls.  Perhaps Angie was lonely and wanted another mom there. I don’t know where her husband was that night. 

As a single mom in graduate school, I relied heavily on an assortment of angelic women who day after day—for three years they picked up my kids from school, kept them busy and fed until I escaped from classes that started at 3pm and ran until 7pm.  These women asked for nothing tangible in return.  

After dinner, my older daughter disappeared to the den with the other kids for the anime marathon.  Then Angie turned to my 7 year old and said, “So, your mom and I are going to play dice games now, would you like to join us?”

I clutched.  My entire body tensed, teeth grinding, my mind racing.  “I hate dice game. No, I can’t, I can’t.  Anything but dice!  On New Years? Seriously!  Why didn’t she ask me! Do I have to????”  

I thought of all of the ways this woman had helped me.  

Reciprocity.  I had done almost nothing for her.  

The least I could do is be a grown up about playing dice.   

I had to start by radically accepting that dice games were happening. 

I sat down at the table.  The mom was bouncing die in a plastic cup, the sound made me shudder.  

Thoughts about my grandfather chased thoughts about how I can’t stand dice games. For years, my brain trotted out the “I hate games” internal monologue every time a game was forced on me. 

I could see now that only increased my suffering.  (Wise mind can be so irritating.)

I surrendered.  “Dice games are happening, so I can do myself a favor by using the Participate skill.”

And I did.

I threw myself in.  I laughed, I strategized, I took my turns graciously.  

It wasn’t a conversion experience.  You won’t find me at the craps table.  But I got to see a side of my younger daughter that I had never seen before.  I had never played a game like this with her and I discovered that she was a very competitive little girl who played to win.  Her intensity and engagement were very fun to participate with. 

And I enjoyed myself.  Because everything actually is more fun with the participate skill.


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.


The Art of Taking Action by Gregg Krech is an amazing resource full of the “how’s” of the participate skill drawn from Japanese Psychology.

If you are so inclined, please flip through The Art of Taking Action and select a few pages that you would like to present about next week. This is not a requirement, just encouraged.

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Diana is a licensed professional counselor based in Nashville. She has been teaching DBT skills for the last ten years after writing her master's thesis about making DBT skills training interesting and engaging. She loves using story telling to help illustrate how skills can be used.

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