Finding Wise Mind in DBT

Wise mind: overlap between reasonable mind and emotion mind

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has a lot of useful concepts, but one of my favourites is wise mind. Wise mind is the area of overlap between our emotional mind and our reasonable/rational/logical mind. To put it another way, it’s like being able to draw on our left and right brain at the same time. It’s not that either mind state is wrong or invalid, but we tend to function best when both sides are engaged.


Wise mind involves an element of mindfulness. It’s easy to get naturally pulled towards rational mind or emotional mind depending on the situation, and mental illness can make those pulls more extreme. To be in wise mind requires being in touch with what’s presently going in both of those mind states and then integrating them. This process is hard to do without mindful awareness, but once that balance is found, rational mind can help pull you back when emotion mind starts to get worked up, and vice versa.

Letting go of judgments

Engaging wise mind involves three key steps: observe, describe, and participate. Observing should be as impartial as you can manage, without judgment. Describe is about labelling your reaction, and in giving it a label, recognizing that it is what it is and nothing more than that. Participating is about interacting with the environment in a way that’s consistent with a balanced state of mind.

Individual leanings

Our upbringing can have a lot do to with our natural inclinations around emotional and rational mind. I think my mom was pretty in touch with wise mind, and maybe sometimes leaned toward rational mind. My dad would have swings into emotion mind every so often and become quite angry, clearly losing touch with the rational mind side.

I’m a pretty logical, science-minded kind of person, so rational mind tends to be fairly active during non-stressful times. During stressful periods, though, I swing sharply into emotional mind, and it usually takes the passage of some time before I find balance again.

The value of wise mind

DBT skills are useful for getting in touch with wise mind, but wise mind is something that anyone can practice. Like any mental skill, it works best when practiced during times of low stress rather than high stress. Try to tap into what each aspect is telling you, and then try to integrate the two.

Personally, wise and has helped with conceptualizing my reactions in order to understand what was behind them. Having the recognition of rational and emotional mind helps me to be a little more self-forgiving when the balance goes out of whack.

Is wise mind a concept that you’re familiar with or have utilized? How has it been helpful for you?

Some further reading:

12 thoughts on “Finding Wise Mind in DBT”

  1. What a fascinating concept! I haven’t heard of this before. I’ve just been learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which looks like it crosses over with some of the ideas behind DBT. Are you familiar with ACT – if so, do you think the two concepts link?

  2. I learned all about this in therapy and apply it every day to different situations. It really makes me think about if Im being rational or emotional. Thanks for the great post! It will help a lot of people who have never done DBT wise mind vs emotional mind.

  3. This is an excellent explanation, like you I am mostly resident in rational mind but find my emotions take over when stressed or depressed. I’ll look into DBT and wise mind further.
    Thanks Ashley, hope all is ok with you x

  4. This was an interesting read. I had never heard of this concept before. To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I truly fit in. I think I’m fairly rational until I am stressed, depressed, and emotional. I try very hard to avoid stressors, period. So, maybe I am rational.
    Who knows… I’m playing catch up on reading without coffee in my system and still feeling under the weather. LOL!

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