6 levels of validation according to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

What is validation in DBT?

Validation is a key concept in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).
To validate means to acknowledge the validity in what someone else is saying, or feeling. Validation is important for every relationship, including friendships, romantic relationships, and with family members. Validation is finding the kernel of truth in another person’s perspective. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree, approve, or like what the other person is doing.

Level 1: Stay awake and pay attention

The first level is to pay attention, and treat the individual and what they are saying as meaningful and important. Don’t multitask, but rather give the person your full attention. Often, we might move in closer. Give them non-verbal cues that you are listening, like nodding.
It is also important to be mindful of negative non-verbal expressions (e.g. rolling your eyes, making a judgemental face, crossing your arms, or looking at your phone).

Level 2: Reflect back

Level 2 validation is accurately reflecting back what the person is saying, without judgement. Summarise what they are telling you, so they know you were listening, and understand what they are telling you. You also might check-in, to make sure you understand. Be open to correction!

Level 3: Read minds

In order to read minds, we pay attention to voice tone, body language, and behaviour while then expressing what you think the person may be feeling or thinking. We have to be open to correction with this level of validation too because we aren’t actually mind readers. Using tentative language like ‘I’m guessing that,' or ‘I’m wondering if' can be really helpful.

Level 4: Show understanding

Level 4 validation is where you communicate an understanding of the causes behind why someone feels they way they do. You are looking for how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of the person makes sense given the person’s history or current situation, even if you don’t approve of the thoughts, feelings, or behaviours themselves.

Level 5: Acknowledge the valid

Level 5 validation involves acknowledging the valid. This is where we show that, not only do we understand the other person, we agree with them. We express that the situation lead to their emotions in a way that you fully agree with. Here, we are communicating that a person’s experience makes sense given the present facts of the situation.

Level 6: Show equality

Show the other person that you would feel the same as them, in the same situation (or, perhaps you are in the same situation, so you do feel the same in many ways). This shows the other person that you think their emotions are fully valid, and that they are fully entitled to equal respect.
It can be difficult to validate emotions that make no sense to you, but if you can try, you should.

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