Borderline personality disorder, a condition once considered “untreatable” by mental health professionals, can now effectively be managed with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Judgments – Mental Shortcuts, or Distortions in Reality?
By Caroline Fleck
He’s so smart; I’m chubby; she’s ugly; he’s bad for you; they’re perfect together – what do all of these statements have in common? They’re judgments; they reflect matters of opinion, not indisputable facts.
That may not seem too terribly fascinating, or insightful, but bear with me. Because what is phenomenal, in my opinion, is the extent to which we allow our judgments to affect our decisions, mood, and functioning.
The past 50 years alone have produced hundreds of studies showing that our perspectives and the decisions we make based on those perspectives are significantly and systematically biased. In 2002 psychologist Daniel Kahneman actually won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in this area. He and his colleagues ultimately concluded that people rely on mental shortcuts, known as heuristics, to help them make decisions and process information more quickly. The problem is that while generally useful, judgments have the capacity to distort reality in consistent ways, particularly when they become habitual, or go unnoticed.
The utility of judgments is perhaps obvious: you could simply say “Jim’s a bad guy,” or you could waste time trying to describe what you mean by “bad.” You could perhaps enumerate all of the behaviors Jim has engaged in that have offended you, been unlawful, or resulted in harm to others. This admittedly seems like a tremendous waste of time. And I’m here to argue that it’s actually time well spent.
In recent years, the field of psychology has been revolutionized by therapeutic approaches that emphasize “non-judgment.” These treatments provide skills training in how to increase our awareness of judgments and become more objective in our interpretations of people, situations, and experiences.
And, again, the research on the effectiveness of these interventions is impressive. Cognitive-behavioral therapies – which have been shown through rigorous research trials to be effective in treating a range of conditions including depression and anxiety – focus extensively on increasing one’s awareness of their judgments and cognitive distortions.
Borderline personality disorder, a condition once considered “untreatable” by mental health professionals, can now effectively be managed with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) (Linehan, 1993). DBT is a specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that is based in large part on helping clients notice and challenge their judgments.