The Power of Understanding Suffering

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“So many people have begged me to come forward,” says mental health therapist Marsha M. Linehan of the University of Washington. “I owe it to them.”

With that thought, Dr. Linehan, whose mental illness as young woman merited her the distinction of “one of the most disturbed patients in the hospital”, publically told her story at the Institute of Living.

“I was in hell,” she said. “And I made a vow: when I get out, I’m going to come back and get others out of here.”

Despite rocky stays in the local psychiatric clinic in her youth, Dr. Linehan earned a Ph.D. in psychology in 1971 and immediately began working in a suicide clinic in Buffalo. She chose to focus on people with borderline personality disorder, incidentally the same diagnosis she would have given her younger self. Her approach to treatment would come to be called dialectical behavior therapy, or D.B.T., which includes focusing on day-to-day skills for coping with intense, destructive emotional outbursts. Today, D.B.T. is widely used for difficult mental illnesses, including eating disorders and drug addictions.

Despite the stigma of mental illness, Dr. Linehan chose to share her past in order to give her patients one of the most valuable of motivators: hope.

“I decided to get supersuicidal people, the very worst cases, because I figured these are the most miserable people in the world — they think they’re evil, that they’re bad, bad, bad — and I understood that they weren’t,” she says. “I understood their suffering because I’d been there, in hell, with no idea how to get out.”

Learn more about Dr. Linehan via her profile story on the New York Times.

Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge is an adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment center for clients with serious mental illnesses. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. Pasadena Villa’s Outpatient Center in Raleigh, North Carolina offers partial hospitalization (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (PHP). If you or someone you know may need mental health services, please complete our contact form or call us at 407-215-2519 for more information.



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