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Emotions are weird. They have a way of changing so fast we hardly know what hit us, and they can change our outlook on a situation, person or perception nearly as quickly. It helps to remember that as much as our emotions affect us, they do not define us.

Last night, I struggled with this. I was feeling down – I was being impatient and it seemed like nothing was happening for me professionally. Now, if you’ve been reading these blogs, you know as well as I do, that this is not the case. Red Flag #1 – feeling down about my professional situation does NOT mean that the feeling is reality. Ok, good enough – and I was still feeling lousy.

So, I thought…if I were the client, what would I be doing in therapy? Most likely looking at the situation and testing out whether my emotions were really reflecting reality, or whether they were masking reality. How do you do this?

Marsha Linehan has a really cool tool that she uses in DBT called “chain analysis.” You start with the event, behavior or situation that was the problem. In my case, I looked back to when I started feeling down, and the even had nothing to do with my professional situation. I was feeling lonely yesterday afternoon because I couldn’t reach my family members to talk. That spiraled into feeling depressed. Specifically, I remember thinking, “I guess no one wants to talk to me. I might as well be a failure” Red Flag #2: I was getting caught up in “Stinkin’ Thinking.”

In Chain Analysis you find the event/situation that started it, describe the event, including what you were feeling and/or thinking at the time or what you did as a result of what you felt, and then describe how intensely you behaved, thought, or felt. In my case, the loneliness and sense of failure and depression were pretty strong. I ended up thinking, “I”m never going to be able to do this. I might as well just quit.” Red Flag #3 – Stinkin’ Thinking again. The idea here is that you want to describe all this in as much detail as you possibly can – could someone recreate *exactly* what you went through? If so, then you’ve done it.

Next, you describe what led up to the feeling, thoughts, or behavior. In my case, not being able to talk to someone was the situation. This “precipitating event” is usually what we point to when we say that “such and such” caused the problem.

From here, you do a detailed description of all the things that affected the situation – Linehan calls them “vulnerability factors.” In my case, I was tired from not sleeping well, I still had an annoying cough from a cold and didn’t feel well, I was stressed by all the details stemming from running a new business as well as preparing to teach a class I’ve never taught before. I was overwhelmed, tired and not feeling good. I was also feeling emotionally exhausted by family situations and childcare issues.

Ok, here’s where chain analysis gets tedious – you describle in minute, excruciatingly clear detail about the chain of events – starting with the precipitating event and go all the way to the consequences. Ok – here goes: I called my mother and got her answering machine. I then called each of my sisters in turn and had the same result. I started feeling like I didn’t matter. I called my husband, who was out at the park with our kids, and he didn’t pick up. I started feeling depressed, and went to work on my task list for this week concerning the private practice and classes. Looking at the things I had to do, I felt overwhelmed and incompetent, and felt more depressed. I remember thinking, “why bother?” and fell into a deeper negative mood. The consequences were that I was not present when my husband did come home and wanted to talk. At that point, I just wanted to be left alone to marinate in my own misery.

At that point, I recognized what was going on, and took steps to counteract the mood. The last step in the process is to describe in detail a prevention strategy and what you are going to do to repair negative consequences that resulted from your behavior or mood. In my case, my prevention strategy is stay mindful of my moods and to write. Writing in my journal, for me, is a safe place to vent and analyze what’s going on. When I write, I feel better and so that’s a good strategy for me to use. I can also go for a walk, and/or do something artistic. I also took a bubble bath, and had a hot cup of tea. Those are all things that help me – developing a list of what helps you will help you have something to turn to when you get feeling low. Nurturing and caring for yourself really IS important and necessary.

Luckily, the interpersonal consequences here were small. I went upstairs and apologized to my husband, and explained what was going on. I also told him that I needed some extra time to myself to write and sort out the depressed feelings.

If you’re interested in more information on doing a chain analysis, you can go to: DBT Self Help, BCA Worksheet to get an idea of what this might look like in therapy or in practice.

Hope this helps – DBT helps with a lot of things – I highly recommend looking into it. See you next time on the other side of the couch!

As Always:

Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.

If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at:



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