This feature by Blaise Aguirre, MD is Part 2 of 2 in a series about how the book DBT for Dummies came about and the road to becoming the number one bestseller on Amazon. In the first part, Blaise began by sharing how he first found DBT. In part two, he addresses the journey of DBT for Dummies itself.
We opened the DBT program known as 3East in 2007. We had the pleasure of having Dr. Marsha Linehan visit us in 2010, and she felt that we were the residential embodiment of her treatment. She felt that we had made the treatment accessible to adolescents and their parents by having the skills clearly explained by the many posters that lined the walls – explanations that highlighted the residents’ understanding of the skills. Since 2007, we have had more than 3500 patients come through our doors and the majority have done very well. Not all, but so many former clients and their families have written, emailed, and called to say how DBT had changed their lives for the better.
And yet, despite all the success we have had, there remained so much skepticism in my professional community and in the families who would often ask: “This sounds great, but when do you get to the real therapy – to the root causes?”
I have known my dear friend and expert DBT clinician Dr. Gillian Galen for nearly 20 years. She was approached by the news journalist Mika Brzezinski from MSNBC’s Morning Joe in 2019 wanting to know more about the treatment. https://www.nbcnews.com/know-your-value/feature/mika-therapy-helping-me-triumph-over-my-20-year-addiction-ncna1151176
Gillian has a way of explaining DBT so that people outside of therapy understand and, in this context, was increasingly invited to the Morning Joe show to discuss various aspects of mental health and DBT. She and I had written two books together, and the process was easy for both of us. I took DBT ideas and made them complicated, and she took the ideas and made them easy to understand! After she had been on one of the shows, she called me and said: “So funny, I just got a call from the For Dummies people asking if I want to write DBT for Dummies! They said that all the things I was saying on the show made so much sense, and that, at a time of COVID, people could use the skills. They want a book that covers DBT completely – that explains it to people in a way that makes it simple, that demystifies it, and that is accessible to everyone. Of course, I’m not going to do it. We’re so busy.”
“What if I write it with you?” I suggested.
She thought about it for a while and then said: “Well that’s the only way I’d think about it, but it will eat away our weekends, and we’re already so busy.”
We were speaking to the editor at Wiley who suggested various due dates for the completed manuscript. I asked: “What’s the earliest date if we start today?”
“Six months from now to publication date,” she answered.
“No way! Don’t even think about it!” said Gillian.
I used my best DEARMAN and focused on the R: “Look, we know this material so well. By working really hard on this we will limit the number of weekends we have to spend writing, and we will be helping families and therapists who have no idea what DBT is sooner by completing it earlier.” I knew she would be game, and so that is what we did. We wrote together every weekend and worked closely with our editor, getting batches in before each deadline.
Eventually the book was out, and Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough wanted us on their show. “The country is going through a terrible pandemic, but we are also going through a mental health pandemic,” they said.
The week our book was released, the most remarkable thing happened. I started getting texts that the book was at number 1 on Amazon. I knew that Amazon had many categories: Psychology, Self-Help, Anxiety Disorders, Mental Health, and so on. ‘Which category?’ I texted back. ‘All of Amazon!!’ they said. And that was the case. For the next three days, DBT for Dummies was the #1 selling book on all of Amazon. We had clearly tapped into a need, and the interviews on CNBC resonated with those watching.
Of course, we in the field use our technology to treat very complicated, complex disorders to address remarkable suffering, and yet the skills are comprehensive and ones that can be used by so many people who will never need our level or comprehensiveness of care. If those who would never request therapy – because their struggle is not so severe or life-interfering – can use the treatment ideas to become more effective, we have reached our aspiration. Then, if therapists who might have criticized our therapy as cultish or patronizing can see the logic and beauty behind the system, perhaps we can also plant the seeds of seeing our therapy without judgement and maybe even reflect on our values and assumptions as a motivation to learn more.
Blaise Aguirre, MD, is an expert in child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and psychopharmacology. He is the founding medical director of McLean 3East, a unique, residential DBT program for young women exhibiting self-endangering behaviors and traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD) Dr. Aguirre has been a staff psychiatrist at McLean since 2000 and is nationally and internationally recognized for his extensive work in the treatment of mood and personality disorders in adolescents. Read his full bio here.