Famed mental illness therapist reveals dark past

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The New York Times recently profiled the University of Washington’s Marsha M. Linehan, revealing the harrowing journey of a famous psychologist who attempted suicide multiple times before pioneering a new method of teaching patients to accept their mental disabilities.

Linehan has borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by neediness, outbursts and self-destructive urges. At age 17, she was sent for 26 months to the Institute of Living, where she was locked in a secluded room to prevent her from hurting itself. The seclusion, as well as electroshock therapy and Freudian analysis, failed to reduce her suicidal urges.

Given little chance to survive, she struggled for a few years, before having a “religious experience” where she suddenly accepted herself for who she is.

As a therapist and researcher, she proceeded to invent a suicidal treatment called dialectic behavior therapy, which is now used worldwide. This idea of “radical acceptance” teaches people to cope with their mental disabilities by accepting the world for what it is, not what it should be.

Last week, in a front of an audience at the Institute of Living, she publicly told her story for the first time.

“There’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life,” said Elyn R. Saks, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Law who chronicles her own struggles with schizophrenia in “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness,” in the article. “We who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives, if we have the right resources.”

2 thoughts on “Famed mental illness therapist reveals dark past

  1. Neeve Willows says:

    I have admired Marsha Linehan’s work and am happy that she has revealed her personal story. As a mental health therapist, I have experience that attitudes from patients, as well as family and friends, that I am supposed to be perfect and not have any problems. In fact, from family and friends I have encountered the belief that I must be a fraud because I am not perfect. I have my own difficulties that I have journeyed through. These journeys have helped to enhance my ability to empathize and experience real compassion for others. In reality, many of us have experienced severe mental health issues of our own. This is often what brought us to work in the field. We are not perfect. We are human and accepting our own flawed and vulnerable humanity is what enables us to help others to accept their flawed and vulnerable humanity.

  2. patricia raamot says:

    I have bipolar disorder and my mental health organization is using Marsha Linehan’s methods in a group called “Emotions regulation” It is tremendous and the methods have made such a difference in my life.

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