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Willing Hands - a simple but effective DBT skill

August 12, 2016

 

Willing hands has to be one of my favorite skills in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, or DBT. It is one of the skills from the DBT Distress Tolerance module, and is what we call in DBT an acceptance skill.

 

From a DBT perspective, acceptance is a process that reduces our suffering and increases our feelings of freedom, by allowing us to come to terms with the facts of our life as they are in the current moment. Willing hands is a way of accepting reality physically, with our bodies.

 

To do Willing Hands we need to un-clench our hands, turn them palms up and relax our fingers. If seated we simply turn our hands palms up and rest them on our lap or on the arms of our chair, and if standing we turn our palms forward and relax our shoulders, arms and hands. 

 

Often anger is the opposite of accepting reality - anger can be associated with a belief that things should not be as they are. Anger motivates us to change reality, to problem solve, to overcome something. Sometimes this is an appropriate response, but in other situations, such as situations that we cannot change for the moment no matter how angry we feel about them, acceptance is a wiser strategy, and one that causes less suffering for us. 

 

Try this exercise. Sit still with your eyes closed and imagine a conflict you had recently with someone, during which you felt strong anger. Notice how the anger returns to a degree when you re-visit this event in your mind's eye. Now move your hands into the Willing Hands position in your lap. What happens to those feelings of anger? Almost always people feel more accepting and therefore less angry when they move their hands into the Willing Hands position. Did that happen for you today?

 

I encourage you to practice Willing Hands throughout your day - when you first wake up, when you feel irritated or impatient, when you have thoughts about a person who has hurt you. I very much hope that practice of this simple skill will bring you an increased sense of understanding and peace.

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