DBT Diary Card Disasters



Last week in one of our online DBT classes, students talked about the inner dialogue that often comes up for them around DBT Diary Cards.  Here are some of the thoughts that were shared:

  • If I miss a day, I just want to throw it away. It's as if I've failed.
  • When I see how many skills other people checked off, I get discouraged and don't want to bother.
  • I don't know most of the skills on there, so why even bother?

First off, let's talk about the purposes of the DBT Diary Card, which include it being:

  • a tool for you to gather information on which skills you use during the day.  After using it for a while, you may begin to see patterns emerge: Are there some skills you use more than others?  Are there some skills that are being underutilized that might be helpful to try?  Are there certain days or times of the day that are easier to use the diary card?
  •  a resource during the day when you're looking for skillful alternatives to troublesome urges, impulses and thoughts.  You can carry your diary card with you in your pocket, bag, wallet, purse, etc., and when feeling stressed or emotionally activated, take it out and use it as an inspiration -- a DBT skills menu if you will.

What a diary card is not:

  • an all-or-nothing activity. So what if you miss a day?  Looking at the first disastrous thought at the beginning of this article,  there may be some black or white/all-or nothing thinking going on here: "Either I fill it out every day, or I don't do it at all." Explore the shades of grey, "It's okay if I don't fill it out here and there. I can still get some benefit from it even if I miss some days.
  • a measure of your self-worth or a tool to prove how imperfect you are. DBT diary cards are not a competition.  Someone may have more skills marked off than you for a variety of reasons: they know more skills, have integrated more skills into their lives, they don't fully understand how to use the card, or they have the same insecurities and are marking off skills left and right and willy nilly.  Who knows, and who cares?   Your DBT diary card if for YOUR use and benefit. 
  • a dreaded pop quiz.  Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."  You can only truly check off the skills you've come to learn and have begun practicing.  If you're overwhelmed at the number of skills on the card that you haven't yet learned, consider accessing a Word version of a diary card so that you can delete or hide the unknown skills and simply add them to the card as you learn them.

If you're feeling overwhelmed or upset with the process of filling out your diary card, try to remember that it's a tool and resource for you, meant to serve, encourage, and remind you.  If any other thoughts come up that discourage you about it, remember to challenge them. Not all thoughts are true.  You're working hard, and keeping a diary card can be a supportive part of your skills practice.


Do you keep a diary card?   Why or why not?  Have you struggled with these or other troublesome thoughts around completing them?  We look forward to your sharing.


Here's a link to a post our peer educator, Debbie Corso wrote early in her recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder on why she loved to fill out Diary Cards.   She isn't ashamed to share that part of it was the positive attention and feedback opportunity that she had during DBT class.

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