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How to use DBT: DBT model of emotions worksheet

This post, DBT model of emotions worksheet, is part of a set of posts on DBT. There are two other blog posts on DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which are:

DBT Stop Skills worksheet: Skills to regulate your emotions and

How to use your DBT card printable: free worksheets 

I would really recommend you starting there if you are interested in DBT. This blog post which follows is much longer and perhaps more intense to read. To help you navigate the post, there is a table of contents for you to use here:

However it is entirely up to you where you start and if you are here then welcome!

I also want to reiterate that I am not a qualified DBT therapist. I am really interested in the work of Professor Linehan and think it can be so useful for so many people. I’ve been really excited when reading and learning about it and want to communicate it as much as possible in the hopes that you will find it useful. 

Also, in this blog post I am using ‘their’ rather than ‘you’. It sounds a bit more formal but it is intentional. I am not qualified to be able to tell you what to do and so ‘their’ leaves a gap between you and me where I can pass on information to you but not tell you what to do.

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Introduction to the DBT model of emotions worksheet idea

The DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) emotion model offers a comprehensive framework for individuals to navigate their emotions in different ways. Through the use of various techniques and strategies, individuals can develop emotional regulation skills to effectively manage unwanted and overwhelming emotions. 

Marsha M. Linehan, the founder of DBT, developed this model, and her treatment manuals and therapy worksheets serve as valuable resources in the therapeutic process. Various worksheets are freely available on the internet and the DBT card printable blog post has links to various free worksheets. 

Through the use of DBT skills training handouts and emotion regulation worksheets, individuals can learn specific skills to identify and modulate their emotional experiences. For those who struggle with negative emotions, such as anxiety or depression, the DBT model offers specific change skills to promote healthier ways of coping.

By applying techniques like mindfulness meditation or opposite action, individuals can actively work towards reducing emotional suffering and enhancing their overall well-being.

DBT and acceptance skills

DBT places a strong emphasis on acceptance skills, recognizing that certain emotions and negative experiences cannot be immediately changed.

I loved the description of the concept of radical acceptance which is highlighted in DBT. You will find radical acceptance elsewhere, encouraging individuals to acknowledge and accept the reality of a given situation, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder or personality disorders.

Through the use of helpful handouts and therapy worksheets, individuals are guided in navigating their emotional landscape and finding ways to respond effectively.

I spent some time in life coaching a while ago where we were taught to allow emotions. So rather than running from them or resisting them you just allow them to flow through you, and when they have done that, they go.

Allowing emotions is not easy though, so the idea of radical acceptance is quite brave and to have a therapy like DBT give you skills to do this is great.

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DBT and health relationships

The DBT emotion model also emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships and social-emotional learning. DBT therapy incorporates interpersonal effectiveness skills and body language awareness to promote communication and develop meaningful connections with others. By engaging in techniques such as chair dialogs, individuals can enhance their ability to express their needs and concerns, fostering healthier relationships and a greater sense of well-being.

Within the DBT framework, core mindfulness skills play a vital role in emotional regulation. Mindfulness meditation exercises can be practiced as a first thing in the morning or as a part of one’s daily routine. By cultivating present-moment awareness and observing their thoughts and physical sensations without judgment, individuals expand their window of tolerance, allowing for a more balanced and adaptive response to difficult emotions.

In DBT, the generalization of change is a major goal, where individuals are encouraged to apply the skills learned in therapy to their everyday lives. The use of treatment manuals, therapy worksheets, and even DBT bingo cards helps individuals internalize the specific skills and integrate them into their daily routines. By doing so, individuals can experience a gradual shift towards healthier coping mechanisms, reduced vulnerability to painful emotions, and an increased ability to navigate challenges in a more balanced manner.

In summary, the DBT emotion model, a cornerstone of dialectical behavior therapy, offers individuals specific skills and techniques to manage difficult emotions and enhance emotional regulation. Through the utilization of various resources such as therapy worksheets, treatment manuals, and mindfulness practices, individuals can develop a greater understanding of their emotional experiences and learn to respond in healthier and more adaptive ways.

The DBT emotion model promotes radical acceptance, fosters the generalization of change, and facilitates the development of healthier relationships, ultimately contributing to an improved quality of life.

The DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) model of emotions is a framework developed by Marsha Linehan to help individuals understand and regulate their emotions effectively. It is commonly used in therapy to address emotional dysregulation, mood disorders, and borderline personality disorder.

The model emphasizes the importance of balancing acceptance and change strategies in managing emotions. I think emotional dysregulation is like radical acceptance, easy to describe but hard to practice.  So it’s great that DBT describes this so well. Let’s look at the DBT model of emotions in more detail:

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DBT model of emotions

Emotion Mind

This state occurs when emotions are overwhelming and control an individual’s thoughts and actions. In this state, you may be highly reactive, impulsive, and have difficulty thinking clearly.

Reasonable Mind

This state is characterized by rational thinking, logic, and problem-solving. It involves looking at situations objectively and using cognitive processes to make decisions.

Wise Mind

This state integrates both emotion mind and reasonable mind. It involves acknowledging and validating emotions while also using rational thinking to guide behaviour. Wise mind represents a balanced approach to emotions and decision-making.

DBT also provides a worksheet called “ABC PLEASE” to help individuals regulate their emotions. Here’s a breakdown of the components of the worksheet:

DBT ABC PLEASE worksheet

A: Accumulate Positive Emotions:

This involves engaging in activities or behaviors that create positive emotions or experiences. It can include things like engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, practicing self-care, or pursuing personal goals.

B: Build Mastery:

This focuses on developing skills and competence in different areas of life. It involves setting achievable goals, breaking them down into smaller steps, and working towards accomplishing them. Building mastery can boost self-esteem and create a sense of accomplishment.

C: Coping Ahead of Time:

This involves anticipating potential stressful or triggering situations and planning ahead to cope with them effectively. It includes identifying potential challenges, brainstorming coping strategies, and practicing them in advance.


This acronym stands for treating Physical Illness, balancing Eating, avoiding mood-Altering substances, balancing Sleep, and getting Exercise. These factors play a crucial role in maintaining emotional well-being, and attending to them can contribute to overall emotional regulation.

The ABC PLEASE worksheet is designed to help individuals build resilience, enhance emotional regulation skills, and improve their overall well-being. It encourages proactive coping strategies and the integration of positive experiences into daily life.

Primary emotions and secondary emotions

In the DBT emotion model, primary and secondary emotions are two categories used to describe and understand the complexity of emotions experienced by individuals. These categories help individuals and therapists to identify and work with emotions more effectively.

Primary Emotions

Primary emotions, also known as “first-order” or “initial” emotions, are the immediate and instinctual emotional responses to a particular event or situation. These emotions are considered universal and are believed to be biologically hardwired in humans. Examples of primary emotions include joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. Primary emotions are considered valid and important in the DBT model, and they provide valuable information about an individual’s inner experiences and reactions.

Secondary Emotions

Secondary emotions, also known as “second-order” or “complex” emotions, are emotions that arise in response to primary emotions or as a result of cognitive evaluations and interpretations of events. Secondary emotions are often influenced by thoughts, beliefs, and judgments about the primary emotions experienced. These emotions can be more nuanced and varied compared to primary emotions. Examples of secondary emotions include guilt, shame, envy, pride, resentment, and frustration.

In the DBT emotion model, both primary and secondary emotions are recognized as valid and important experiences. Understanding the relationship between primary and secondary emotions is crucial in helping individuals regulate their emotions effectively. Often, secondary emotions can intensify or prolong emotional distress if not addressed, as they can be influenced by self-judgment, self-criticism, or distorted thinking patterns.

DBT aims to help individuals identify and validate their primary emotions while also examining and addressing the underlying beliefs and interpretations that contribute to the secondary emotions. By understanding and working with both primary and secondary emotions, individuals can develop healthier coping strategies and emotional regulation skills.

What are emotion regulation skills in relation to the DBT emotion model?

In the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) emotion model, emotion regulation skills refer to a set of techniques and strategies that individuals can learn and practice to effectively manage and modulate their emotions.

These skills are designed to help individuals develop greater emotional awareness, regulate intense emotions, and promote emotional well-being. Emotion regulation skills are an essential component of DBT and are taught and practiced in therapy.

Common emotion regulation skills used in the DBT model:


Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment and non-judgmentally observing one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Mindfulness helps individuals develop awareness of their emotions as they arise without immediately reacting to them. It promotes an attitude of acceptance and allows individuals to respond to emotions more skillfully.

Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance skills focus on tolerating and accepting distressing emotions without trying to change or escape from them. These skills help individuals ride out intense emotions without engaging in impulsive or harmful behaviours. Distress tolerance skills include self-soothing techniques, distraction techniques, and finding meaning in difficult situations.

Emotion Regulation Strategies

Emotion regulation strategies involve learning to identify, label, and understand emotions, as well as finding effective ways to modulate them. This includes learning to recognize triggers for intense emotions, challenging and modifying unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, problem-solving, and using relaxation techniques to reduce emotional arousal.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness skills focus on improving communication and relationships with others, which can have a significant impact on emotional well-being. These skills involve setting boundaries, assertiveness training, active listening, and learning effective ways to resolve conflicts and navigate interpersonal dynamics.


Self-soothing skills involve engaging in activities or behaviours that promote comfort, relaxation, and self-care. These activities can help individuals regulate their emotions and provide a sense of calm and security. Self-soothing techniques can include taking a warm bath, listening to calming music, practicing deep breathing exercises, engaging in hobbies, or seeking support from loved ones.


Problem-solving skills help individuals identify and address the underlying issues or stressors that contribute to emotional distress. This involves breaking down problems into manageable steps, generating potential solutions, evaluating the pros and cons, and taking action towards resolving the problem.

By learning and practicing these emotion regulation skills, individuals can gain greater control over their emotions, improve emotional resilience, and enhance their overall well-being. These skills provide individuals with a toolbox of strategies to navigate challenging emotional experiences and promote healthier responses to emotions.

Problem solving in relation to the DBT emotion model

Problem-solving is an important component of the DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) emotion model. It involves a systematic approach to identifying and resolving problems or stressors that contribute to emotional distress. Problem-solving skills help individuals gain a sense of control and mastery over difficult situations, which can positively impact their emotional well-being.

Key elements of problem-solving in the context of the DBT emotion model

Problem Identification

The first step in problem-solving is to clearly identify the specific problem or stressor that is contributing to emotional distress. It involves recognizing and defining the problem in concrete terms, focusing on the specific aspects that can be addressed and changed.

Breaking Down the Problem

Once the problem is identified, it is helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable components. This allows individuals to gain a clearer understanding of the factors involved and identify specific areas where changes can be made.

Generating Potential Solutions

In this step, individuals brainstorm a range of potential solutions or strategies that can be used to address the problem. It is important to encourage creativity and open-mindedness during this process, considering both practical and innovative solutions.

Evaluating Pros and Cons

Each potential solution is evaluated by considering the potential advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons) associated with it. This step helps individuals weigh the potential outcomes and determine which solutions are most likely to be effective and beneficial.

Decision Making

After evaluating the pros and cons of each potential solution, individuals make an informed decision about which solution to implement. This decision is based on a balance of logical reasoning, personal values, and the desired outcomes.

Taking Action

Once a decision is made, individuals take action by implementing the chosen solution. This may involve setting specific goals, developing an action plan, and initiating the necessary steps to address the problem.

Reviewing and Adapting

After implementing the solution, it is essential to review and evaluate its effectiveness. Individuals assess whether the chosen solution has resulted in the desired outcomes and make adjustments or adaptations as needed.

Problem-solving in the DBT emotion model emphasizes an active and systematic approach to addressing problems, empowering individuals to take charge of their lives and make positive changes. By applying problem-solving skills, individuals can gain a sense of competence, reduce emotional distress related to problematic situations, and improve their overall well-being.

What mindfulness exercises can I do for the DBT emotion model?

Mindfulness exercises are an integral part of the DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) emotion model. They help individuals develop greater awareness, acceptance, and regulation of their emotions. Here are some mindfulness exercises that specifically align with the principles of the DBT emotion model:

Mindful Breathing

Find a quiet space and focus your attention on your breath. Breathe in slowly and deeply, noticing the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. Pay attention to the rise and fall of your abdomen or the feeling of air passing through your nostrils. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the breath.

Observing Emotions

Set aside a few minutes to sit quietly and observe your emotions without judgment. Notice the sensations and physical changes associated with different emotions. Observe where in your body you feel these emotions, whether it’s tension, warmth, or other sensations. Allow the emotions to arise and pass without trying to suppress or cling to them.

Non-Judgmental Thoughts

Practice observing your thoughts without attaching judgments or evaluations to them. Sit quietly and watch your thoughts come and go, treating them as passing mental events. Notice any tendency to judge or criticize your thoughts and gently bring your focus back to the present moment.

Mindful Acceptance

Engage in an activity or situation that typically triggers strong emotions or discomfort. As you navigate through the experience, bring a non-judgmental and accepting attitude towards your emotions. Allow the emotions to arise and coexist without attempting to change or suppress them. Practice radical acceptance of the present moment.

Five Senses Exercise

Engage your senses to anchor yourself in the present moment. Take a few deep breaths and identify five things you can see, four things you can feel or touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Fully immerse yourself in the sensory experience, observing each sensation with curiosity and openness.

Mindful Self-Compassion

Practice self-compassion by directing kind and gentle thoughts towards yourself. Place one hand on your heart and offer yourself soothing and supportive phrases such as “May I be kind to myself,” “May I accept myself as I am,” or “May I find peace in difficult moments.” Allow yourself to receive the warmth and care of these self-compassionate messages.

These mindfulness exercises can be incorporated into your daily routine to enhance emotional regulation, increase self-awareness, and cultivate a non-judgmental and accepting attitude towards your emotions.

Regular practice can help you develop greater emotional resilience and a more balanced approach to navigating challenging situations within the framework of the DBT emotion model.

The DBT emotion model, low self-esteem and anxiety disorders

The DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) emotion model can be effectively applied to address low self-esteem and anxiety disorders. Let’s explore how the DBT emotion model can be utilized in these contexts:

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem refers to a negative evaluation of oneself, a lack of self-worth, and a diminished sense of personal value. In the DBT emotion model, low self-esteem can be addressed by focusing on building a more balanced and compassionate self-perception. DBT offers various strategies to help individuals develop self-acceptance and enhance their self-esteem


Mindfulness practices can assist individuals in observing their negative self-evaluations and self-critical thoughts without judgment. By cultivating present-moment awareness, individuals can challenge negative self-perceptions and foster a more realistic and compassionate view of themselves.

Radical Acceptance

DBT emphasizes the concept of radical acceptance, which involves fully acknowledging and accepting oneself as one is, with both strengths and limitations. By practicing radical acceptance, individuals can let go of self-judgment and develop a more compassionate and accepting attitude toward themselves.

Building Mastery

Engaging in activities that contribute to a sense of competence and accomplishment can help individuals build self-esteem. Setting and achieving realistic goals, acquiring new skills, and engaging in activities that align with personal values can enhance self-confidence and self-worth.

Challenging Cognitive Distortions

DBT encourages individuals to identify and challenge cognitive distortions, such as black-and-white thinking, overgeneralization, and self-blame. By examining the evidence and reframing negative self-beliefs, individuals can develop a more balanced and positive self-perception.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders encompass a range of conditions characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, and apprehension. The DBT emotion model provides valuable tools to manage anxiety symptoms and promote emotional regulation:


Mindfulness practices can help individuals observe and accept anxious thoughts and sensations without becoming overwhelmed by them. By grounding oneself in the present moment, individuals can reduce anxiety and break free from cycles of rumination and worry.

Distress Tolerance

DBT emphasizes distress tolerance skills to help individuals cope with anxiety-provoking situations. Learning techniques such as self-soothing, distraction, and self-care can assist in managing anxiety symptoms and building resilience in the face of distress.

Cognitive Restructuring

DBT incorporates cognitive restructuring techniques to challenge anxious thoughts and beliefs. By identifying and examining irrational or catastrophic thinking patterns, individuals can develop more adaptive and realistic thought processes, reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of calm.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Building healthy relationships and effective communication can alleviate anxiety symptoms. DBT focuses on interpersonal effectiveness skills to enhance social interactions, assertiveness, and conflict resolution, ultimately reducing anxiety related to social situations.

It’s important to note that the application of the DBT emotion model for low self-esteem and anxiety disorders is typically done in the context of comprehensive therapy with a qualified mental health professional. A therapist can provide guidance, support, and tailored interventions to address these specific concerns using the principles of DBT.

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What is the vulnerable child mode in DBT?

In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), the concept of the “vulnerable child mode” refers to a specific state or mode of experiencing and expressing emotions that is reminiscent of the emotional vulnerability and needs experienced during childhood. This mode is often activated in response to distressing or triggering situations and can influence how individuals perceive and respond to their current environment.

The vulnerable child mode is characterized by feelings of helplessness, fear, sadness, and a strong desire for comfort and reassurance. In this mode, individuals may experience intense emotional reactions and may seek nurturing, protection, and validation from others. They may exhibit behaviours and communication patterns that reflect their inner child’s needs, such as crying, withdrawal, seeking physical proximity, or displaying childlike expressions and body language.

This mode is believed to originate from unresolved emotional experiences and unmet needs from childhood. It represents a part of an individual’s overall emotional experience and can significantly impact their interpersonal relationships and emotional regulation.

In DBT, therapists work with individuals to identify and understand their vulnerable child mode. Through validation and empathy, therapists create a safe and supportive environment to help individuals explore and process their emotions. The goal is to help individuals develop healthier coping strategies and gain a sense of self-soothing and self-nurturing abilities, ultimately fostering emotional regulation and reducing emotional reactivity.

Therapeutic techniques used in DBT to address the vulnerable child mode may include imagery exercises, role-playing, and guided visualization. By accessing and understanding this mode, individuals can gain insight into their emotional triggers, learn to meet their own needs, and develop alternative strategies for managing distressing situations.

It is important to note that the vulnerable child mode is just one of the many modes or states that individuals may experience in DBT. By recognizing and addressing this mode, individuals can develop a more compassionate and integrated relationship with their emotions, leading to improved emotional well-being and more adaptive responses to challenging situations.

In Conclusion…

In conclusion, the DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) emotion model provides a comprehensive framework for individuals to navigate their emotions and promote emotional regulation. By utilizing various resources such as DBT worksheets, therapy handouts, and mindfulness exercises, individuals can develop a deeper understanding of their emotional experiences and gain practical tools for managing unwanted emotions.

Marsha Linehan’s contributions to dialectical behavioral therapy have been instrumental in the development of this model, as evidenced in the second edition of her work. Through the incorporation of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and social-emotional learning, individuals can enhance their emotional well-being and develop healthier ways of responding to challenging situations.

The integration of DBT self-help strategies, such as the “DEAR MAN” technique and the use of DBT bingo cards, further supports individuals in taking active steps towards emotional regulation. Additionally, the attention given to addressing panic attacks, suicidal ideation, and providing validation in therapy worksheets highlights the comprehensive approach of DBT in addressing emotional difficulties across various areas of life.

What I love about the DBT emotion model is that it empowers individuals to take action in managing their emotions and fosters a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional resilience. I hope you find it useful too.

As mentioned at the top of the post the other two posts which form a DBT group are:

The DBT stop skill worksheet

DBT diary cards

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