On Radical Acceptance (Part 1)

February 5, 2020

This feature by Randy Wolbert is the first part in a two-part series about Radical Acceptance, one of the DBT Skills. In part 1, Randy discusses the meaning and origin of the Radical Acceptance skill.

What is radical acceptance? 

When looking up definitions of “acceptance,” you find the typical “acceptance is the act of accepting” which is not all that helpful.  The two main meanings appear to be receipt of something or recognition of something. 

A couple of the problematic synonyms are “agreement” and “approval.”  This what our clients typically think of when they hear the word “acceptance;” somehow this means that I agree with the outcome and I approve of it.  A couple of the other synonyms are actually more useful for our purposes – “tolerance” and “acknowledgment.” 

When we look up the word “radical,” we find the following definition: “concerning the most basic and important parts of something; thorough and complete; and new, different and likely to have a great effect.” 

So taken together, “radical acceptance” is acknowledgement that is thorough and complete which is likely to have a great effect.  Or as Dr. Marsha Linehan put it: “The fully open experience of what is, just as it is, by unrivaled entering into reality, just as it is, at this moment.  Radical Acceptance is the only way out of hell.”

So, where does the notion of Radical Acceptance come from? 

Marsha will tell you that it comes straight from Zen and the practice of letting go of attachments.  The desperate clinging desire for something different than what actually is turns pain into suffering.  Letting go of this attachment to what is not will loosen the grip of suffering.

Finding acceptance in this moment is a true moment of freedom.  Freedom means letting go of any expectations of life experiences, radical acceptance of the way things are, and a continual turning of the mind towards acceptance; ultimately, this freedom leads to joy. I think we can all agree that a little joy definitely beats out suffering.

Read here for part 2 in which Randy will talk about how the Radical Acceptance skill relates to the clients’ experiences as well the DBT therapists’.

Randy Wolbert, LMSW, CAADC, CCS is a DBT trainer with Behavioral Tech Institute.  Randy has been practicing DBT since 1995 and was a contractual trainer with BTECH since 1998 and transitioned to a full time trainer/consultant in 2015. Read his full biography here.


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