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Validation for BPD - Part 1

Validation is a hot topic within the counselling and psychotherapy world.  

Therapists have to be able to validate in order to understand their client’s world and it enables the cultivation of a strong therapeutic relationship. Psychotherapists and counsellors also model validation to their clients within the therapeutic relationship; it is something clients are implicitly learning during therapies such as Schema Therapy. Within behavioural based therapies, such as in DBT, validation is taught as a skill and clients are asked to actively practice it in between sessions.

two hands shaped to make a heart

What exactly is validation?

Validation is when you give someone an emotional space to feel their emotions.  You allow them an emotional space, even if the reasons for their emotions are not something you agree with.  You tune in to what is going on for them and understand that there is a reason, a cause for their behaviour, and the adjoining emotions.  

When we validate, we give an understanding to the context of the situation and the person’s life, and their history. This goes for the adjoining behaviour too; if we think all behaviour is a consequence of a learnt response to an environmental stressor even unhelpful behavioural responses make sense.

E.g."It makes sense to me that your urges to self harm get higher at school, you used to self harm at school when you were being bullied and at that time you hadn’t developed any other coping strategies."

Validation is not condoning the behaviour but it is understanding that there is a reason for it.

Marsha Linehan describes validation as:

“Validation is when you communicate to the

individual an actual understanding of their behaviour

– where they are and the causes of their behaviour.

In other words, all behaviour is caused.

When you are paying attention to them, you are

listening to them. You are reporting, “What you say

is important to me.”

You look at how their behaviour makes sense in

terms of causes…

You don’t validate invalid behaviour – although you

can validate invalid behaviour’s cause. In other

words, all behaviour is caused – it always is.”

book with the title - the power of why, leaning against another book that says - human needs

Why is validation important?!

  • People who have feel their emotions very deeply and quickly can be acutely impacted by validation. Individuals with BPD and BPD traits can feel invalidation very painfully and the impact of it can linger and it can feel tough to recover from. 

  • We are not born knowing how to validate, some lucky people may be able to do it more easily but this skill is one that once we learn it, we can have it for life. 

  • If I think about the clients that I have worked with, due to normative ways institutions continue to run: schools with their large class sizes; health services with their inclusions and exclusions criteria; businesses with high pressured environments and long working hours, people with Emotional Regulation difficulties and may have experienced unintentional invalidation from these institutions and this can cause feelings of isolation and re-enforce unhelpful negative self beliefs and lead to increased emotional and behavioural dysregulation.

  • One of the reasons I wanted to write about this is because when I teach validation skills to my clients they connect with the rationale for it.  They get that for them, their need for validation hasn’t always been met, they begin to understand why this might be they see the rewards of using validation. 

  • Validation is a great interpersonal skill.  We can use validation to help strengthen current healthy relationships and to help set boundaries.  E.g. “I get you’re upset that I’m not going to be able to do that extra shift for you, you’re short staffed and you must be really stressed, and I have to get back home for 3pm for my kids.”

  • My clients also love using validation skills with their parents/kids and friends and seeing the response.

female child and female adult making hearts with hands with heads touching - very emotionally warm picture

Rather and Miller explain why validation is a valuable tool to be used within therapy and they also mention how it can be used to deescalate situations.


“Beyond promoting relationships, validation is also a valuable method for acknowledging what is said by the client, while encouraging early clarification of misunderstandings and inaccuracies. Furthermore, the therapist can use the techniques to deescalate difficult situations and give confidence to the client that they are not being judged and have valid fears, hopes, concerns, and anxieties.” (Rather & Miller, 2015). DBT manual for adolescents.

If you want to find out more about how invalidation may have impacted you, or, if you would like to learn some validation skills, contact Geraldine for more information on how psychotherapy or counselling can help you.

Call - 07980710526


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