HOW DBT CAN BE BETTER THAN CBT.
I remember the morning well. It was July 1, 2005, and I had turned 30 that year. Starting from three years earlier, I had a nightmare of a bullying event in my school years. I remembered waking up screaming from it, and then realising I was in bed, not facing a kid who was aiming a table tennis paddle and using distraction tactics when serving. Over previous years, I had woken up reliving these nightmares, and that morning, I had actually resolved to do something about it. I called Lifeline, something I had done before, when I felt smothered, and luckily, I had a counsellor with whom I connected. She told me that it was my subconscious telling me to deal with it.
I made an appointment to see my GP later that day, and I started to unburden myself. I began talking about twelve years of bullying at school.
The following year, I had to get the starter motor replaced on my ageing car. I went around to my parents’ place for lunch and one route to their place would have taken me past my old high school, a place that represented trauma and heart ache to me. I elected not to go that way and when the reason was forced out of me, my mother told me that people would laugh at me if I told them. How untrue that was!
It was after I’d joined a group that I found that I could encourage people by saying, “You don’t have to do it all in one go.” I mentioned it to people with agoraphobia that you don’t have to go across the other side of town, you might only be able to manage the letterbox one day, then, after a week, you might try walking to the end of the street. I also said to people that if you need your security blanket, that’s okay, too. If, like me, you would prefer to take a car, that’s fine. After all, I feel more comfortable in a car as I can be by myself and think, “You can’t hurt me, now.” My greatest fear, as a schoolkid, was when the teacher had to leave the room, as the students would riot and my safety was compromised. I would have almost felt safer if the teacher had said, “You can come with me.”
Traumatic experiences affect many people. Sometimes, it can be one incident in one place, sometimes, as in my case, it was prolonged exposure to bullying. My mother said, when I told her about Vietnam Veterans having PTSD, that Vietnam Veterans go back to Vietnam. Well, SOME Vietnam Veterans go back to Vietnam and for different reasons. Some go back to remember fallen comrades, some go back to be part of humanitarian projects. Some are so deeply traumatised by their experiences they can’t go back. I remember a smart Alec kid in one of my classes who smirked that his father was a Vietnam Veteran and he hated all people of that demographic. What he needed to learn first and foremost was, other Asian immigrants are not responsible for the war. All the talk of double agents goes back to a documentary I saw of a noodle bar frequented by both Viet Cong and American servicemen and what happened was, the Viet Cong would come in and the proprietors would pick up intelligence and pass it on, and the Americans would come in and they’d do the same. Many people do similar things. I can remember having an argument with a hairdresser who said she was telling people to vote for the most ignorant Australian senator. I said to her that a hairdresser shouldn’t ask their client how they plan to vote, or even start talking about politics. An astute hairdresser listens and agrees and a fly on the wall shouldn’t be able to tell what the hairdresser really thought.
For my own experiences with returning to Brisbane, armed with a rental car and CDs of 80s Music, I started by driving to the northern suburbs, and then, due to circumstances, later, I had to go to the South, and from there I could manage further. I was helped along the way by meeting up with an old school colleague who wanted to be a vet but changed his mind after going to the RSPCA for work experience. I can understand how working with abused animals can be traumatic, BUT, the rewarding feeling of seeing those animals going to loving homes is the other side.
DBT is a further reason as to why I vehemently disagree with TPVs for asylum seekers. A TPV, which may last three to five years and is up for renewal and once unrest has supposedly settled down, they are repatriated, is cruelty. Let us not forget that within those three to five years, an asylum seeker may have gained a valuable support network, and may have even fallen in love with a local. (I remember a young Afghan asylum seeker had an Anglo-Australian girlfriend, and Afghanistan was dishonestly painted to be like rural New Zealand, while still war-torn, who faced that prospect). If, once unrest has settled, an asylum seeker WISHES to return to their country of origin, then yes, they should be permitted to, if only for a holiday (some people who were refugees in post-war Europe have returned for visits, having built new lives overseas, but not all did) but they should NEVER be told that after a set time they must leave Australia or face forced deportation!
Like any therapy, it needs to be tailored to the specific needs of the client. Just like you can’t expect a refugee to have university standard English to enter Australia if their secondary school education was interrupted by war, you CANNOT EXPECT everybody to conform to a certain standard at a certain time. Everybody deals with and handles trauma at different speeds. There is no one size fits all.