Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has proven efficacy in helping those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) adopt healthier ways of viewing and coping with reality. Some hallmarks of BPD include black-and white thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, splitting (us-vs.-them thinking) and extreme forms of valuation and idealization as well as extreme forms of devaluation. Sometimes towards the same person over time.
These all also happen to be hallmarks of many high-demand religions, to include the Mormon Church.
Just as DBT can help those with BPD to heal to a healthier way of being, perhaps if the LDS institution were to adopt some of these approaches, it could also evolve to a healthier way of being. A way of being more in-line with the principles the historical Jesus taught and lived.
Perhaps a DBT-type approach could also be helpful for those who choose to stay in the Mormon Church after seeing and recognizing the many societal and cultural issues and areas of harm as well as many problematic issues with literal LDS truth claims.
The Heart of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
At the heart of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a “yes and” approach (as opposed to an “either or” approach). It is taking two conflicting pieces of data or conflicting emotions and holding space for BOTH of them simultaneously. The “Dialectical” in DBT representing differing or opposing points of view or emotions.
For example: “I love him and right now I’m feeling hatred towards him.”
“I admire her and how she treated me was wrong.”
“I feel both attracted towards and repulsed by him.”
“The Founding Fathers of the U.S. started a system radically ahead of its times that greatly advanced human rights and many of them were slave owners who actively suppressed and abused other humans.”
For myself, simultaneously holding and honestly recognizing the conflicting and opposing aspects of Mormonism has been a very healing process since leaving the Mormon Church.
This heart of DBT is very much in line with something Joseph Smith once said:
By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.Joseph Smith Jr., June 5, 1844, History of the Church 6:428 History of the Church 6:428
So for example, “Joseph Smith was a narcissist, a womanizer and a charlatan and often demonstrated incredible charity and compassion.”
The historical records provide clear evidence to my mind that both of these opposing views are accurate. So what is “the truth made manifest” by proving contraries here? For me it is that we are incredibly complex as human beings, that potential and ability for both profound good and evil live in each of us. That our highest achievements and our lowest points are not accurate reflections of what it means to be human.
Or here is another one: “The Book of Mormon is a non-historical fictional text firmly grounded in cultural sources of Joseph Smith’s day and it has damaging, racist ideologies and it has passages inspiring against racism and it has inspiring and uplifting passages that can be good for one’s mental health and it has passages that can be very damaging to one’s mental health.”
I believe all of these are true though conflicting. And what is the “truth manifest?” Again… I think it shows that as human beings we have great potential for both good and bad residing within us.
I believe in many ways, The Book of Mormon is a projection of Joseph Smith’s internal psyche. It is both an uninspired book (I don’t believe it came down from heaven above as claimed) and an inspired book. I believe numerous passages within it reflect the goodness and Divinity that resided within Joseph Smith… a byproduct of his own internal inspiration (and delusion). A goodness and Divinity that resides to varying degrees within each of us. And many passages within it also reflect his internal demons as well as the societal and cultural demons of his day.
Other Aspects of DBT
Of course, there is much more to DBT than what I mentioned here. However, skills incorporated into and developed through DBT include Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation and Interpersonal Effectiveness. All GOOD healthy things to have.
A Healing Path Forward for the Mormon Church
The Mormon Church is currently hemorrhaging members and growing at a very slow rate. This is probably because there is abundant objective information on the internet of verifiable facts that don’t align with foundational LDS truth claims. This is also probably because many aspects of Mormon culture can be very harmful to all involved. At present, especially women and the LGBTQ population. And the poor growth of the LDS Church is also probably part of a larger trend. Organized religion is on the decline across America.
That said, I believe it is also true that many aspects of Mormon culture are also beautiful and uplifting and inspiring to those involved (See, DBT!!!) ;-). Just like pretty much every culture.
Perhaps a path forward for the leaders of the Mormon Church would be to HONESTLY acknowledge contraries… in doing so the “truth” will be made manifest.
For example, many of the current doctrines and practices could be reframed to more metaphorical lenses while relinquishing literalism. Many scriptural passages are clearly not literally true AND also teach deep transcendent truths (like many other works of fiction).
These passages could be “likened” unto the reader without being embraced as literal truth (with the accompanying damage that can result from this appraoch). Perhaps the fictional Nephi would approve.
I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.1 Nephi 19:23
There are passages in LDS scripture that suggest relinquishing literalism could be further entertained by top Mormon leadership… that perhaps even non-literal scripture in the past COULD be viewed as God-inspired… After all using these passages, one could say “God” was speaking to the people of the time in a literalistic fashion they would understand!!
The Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.2 Nephi 31:3
These commandments… were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.D&C 1:24
A Healing Path Forward for Those Who Decide to Stay
Honestly, I would be surprised if top Mormon leadership adopts these types of approaches with any real vigor during my lifetime, though would be pleasantly surprised if they did.
For those who decide to remain in the Mormon Church, for whatever reason, despite all of the ongoing institutional issues… perhaps a DBT-type approach could be helpful.
Be truthful about the contraries… The “good” and the “bad.” What is the truth that emerges?
Perhaps a further developement of radical acceptance, grace, mindfulness, lack of judgement and just “being” on the part of the member who decides to stay despite knowing all of the issues? An appreciation of community over dogma?
I don’t know. I would never suggest to anyone to stay or to leave. I know this is a very personal and complicated decision. For myself, despite the good, I also felt the Mormon Church was an emotionally and spiritually abusive institution.
AND I also recognize not everyone experiences it or participates in it in this way AND for some people, due to familial circumstances beyond their control, staying and participating MAY be the healthiest choice overall.
As mentioned, for myself, simultaneously holding and honestly recognizing the conflicting and opposing aspects of Mormonism has been a very healing process since leaving the Mormon Church.
A healing path forward for Mormons (and former Mormons)?
Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.