Marsha M. Linehan is a woman that has made a significant contribution to mental health, specifically in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Linehan created Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), which is a type of therapy that has helped many people down the years, and will surely continue to do so in years to come.

It is primarily intended for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, though those suffering from other conditions, such as Eating disorders and other personality disorders, have also benefited from this type of therapy.

The story behind Linehan’s creation of DBT is rather sad, but also acts as an example of the importance of showing strength in adversity, and that recovery is always possible.

DBT has helped many people around the world

Marsha Linehan’s Mental Health Journey

While most therapies have been the brainchild of scientists and psychotherapists, DBT is known for being created by someone that went through mental health problems.

Linehan was diagnosed with Schizophrenia during her teenage years, and as a result, was admitted to a mental health institution where she unfortunately stayed for several years.

While at the mental health institution, Linehan was subjected to many traumatic experiences. This included electroconvulsive (shock) therapy, the powerful antipsychotic medication Thorazine and periods of solitary confinement.

Linehan left the mental health institution after turning 18, and stated that she believes her diagnosis of Schizophrenia was not accurate. Linehan said that she was actually suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder – with her symptoms relating better to the personality disorder.

Transformation through Religion

Marsha Linehan is a devout Roman Catholic. Like many people who have seen a transformation in life, she has praised the role of religion in aiding her recovery from mental illness.

In fact, she speaks of the turning point in her life coming at the age of 24, when she was praying in a Catholic Chapel in Chicago, Illinois. This happened in 1967, when in Linehan’s words: “one night I was kneeling in there, looking up at the cross, and the whole place became gold – and suddenly I felt something coming toward me”.

She continued by saying “it was this shimmering experience, and I just ran back to my room and said, ‘I love myself’. It was the first time I remembered talking to myself in the first person. I felt transformed”.

This incredible experience is an example of how many people find religion can have a transformative effect on them when they are at their lowest. This experience certainly helped transform Linehan.

Using her experiences to help others

Linehan used her experiences to help her create DBT. DBT was based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – which is the most common form of therapy used for mental health conditions.

Linehan identified that most mentally ill people had grown up in environments where their emotions were dismissed, and that they were emotionally vulnerable.

Linehan intended for DBT to involve a strong relationship between the patient and therapist, an involvement of mindfulness (which she had personally found very useful), and some existing principles from CBT.

Linehan instructed therapists providing DBT to validate their patients’ feelings and emotions. Focus on problem-solving and acceptance are important factors in DBT.

The overall DBT process also involves the therapist showing the patient that some of their feelings and emotions have harmful effects on their behaviour, and that better thought processes are available for them.

What Happened to Marsha Linehan?

Linehan stopped taking medication after leaving the mental health institution, and has proudly stated that she has never taken any psychotropic medication ever since then.

She attended a Jesuit University in Illinois, USA, where she graduated with a B.S. in Psychology. Her turnaround and transformation was impressive. She went on to complete her PhD, and thoroughly researched suicidal behaviour and Borderline Personality Disorder during her career.

Linehan is also an esteemed author, and worked with the University of Washington until 2019. At the University, she worked as a Professor, lecturing students while also completing further research.

Summary

Marsha Linehan has certainly left a strong legacy in the world of mental health. Her creation of DBT has helped many people. It isn’t an overstatement to say that her work has led to many lives being saved.

You can see more about Marsha Linehan and her work on her website at this link. DBT will continue to be a useful tool in mental health which will help many people.

If you have been affected by any of the content in this article, you can see our crisis resources at this link. Consider calling The Samaritans on 116 123.