The path towards a life worth living isn’t easy and it requires careful examination of your behavior patterns on a daily basis. One way that you can easily track your daily life is by using a DBT Diary Card. 

If you’re new to dialectical behavior therapy, though, you may be wondering  what a Diary Card even is and, furthermore, how writing stuff down daily will actually help you manage your borderline personality disorder. Well, if that’s the case, keep reading!

What Are Diary Cards?

Diary Cards are a behavior-tracking tool used by most Dialectical Behavior Therapy providers. These cards allow you to track suicidal and self-harm urges, various emotions, progress towards changing ineffective behavior patterns, and DBT skills used over the course of a week. The cards include some flexibility so that your therapist can tailor it to address the specific targets that you and your DBT therapist agreed need to change.

After filling the card out throughout the week, you would then bring it to your individual therapy session with your DBT therapist. The recordings will help you and your therapist determine behavior patterns that may need attention and identity skills that you may need to utilize more. If you make notes to go along with what you track each day, you and your therapist can also identify potential triggers and work on ways to avoid the triggers or cope with them using skills.

What Should I Track On My Card?

The information you track on your diary cards is an invaluable tool for you to work towards a life worth living. However, diary cards can feel overwhelming at first, so it’s helpful to know what you should be tracking and the best possible ways to do that.

When you look at a Diary Card for the first time, you’ll notice that there are different items on each side of the paper. On one side of the card, you’ll see each DBT module and each skill listed under the appropriate module. Next to each listed skill, there will be a place for you to note if you did or did not use the listed skill on each day of the week. This side is pretty self-explanatory, but obviously you may not use every skill every day (or even know all of the listed skills when you first start DBT treatment).

On the other side of the card, you’ll see a grid formatted to track certain items each day of the week. Typically there are spaces to track your suicidal ideation, self-harm urges, and certain key emotions. Additionally, there will be space to track your urges and actions for several target behaviors. These behaviors might include anything from “passive aggressive communication” to “binge eating,” or may include behavior goals you’re working towards like “lights out at 9pm” or “setting boundaries with co-workers.” 

Additionally, there’s a place to track your need for phone coaching and the number of times you actually used it. Finally, there is typically a place to make notes for each day, and it’s good to use this to jot down important information that you may want to recall during your session so that you can help “set the scene” for why an emotion was elevated or why you used specific skills on that day. 

How Diary Cards Help Manage BPD

When I first started DBT-informed treatment, the therapist I saw didn’t utilize diary cards. So when I started seeing a new therapist just over a year later, I was instantly intrigued by the concept. Within just a few weeks of using Diary Cards, though, I learned that they would be a powerful tool in my recovery. 

First and foremost, Diary Cards forced me to sit and reflect on my day. This provided me with an opportunity to check in with myself at the end of each day and mindfully evaluate what happened from the time I woke up until the moment I prepared for sleep. By doing this, I started to see that a single moment didn’t dictate my entire day — which is a huge breakthrough for a black and white thinker!

Diary Cards also helped me recognize patterns that were no longer serving me and were potentially hindering my recovery. For example, the more I tracked my suicidal ideation and made notes on each day, the more my therapist and I noticed that I automatically attached suicidal thoughts to every negative emotion I experienced. So, with the help of an emotion wheel, we started teasing apart my suicidal ideation from the underlying feelings that I was actually avoiding or unable to identify. This has played a critical role in keeping me safe and out of the hospital over the past year.

Finally, Diary Cards have helped me see how skillful I’ve really become. I will frequently tell my therapist that I didn’t act very skillfully, but as we review my Diary Card each week, the facts tell a very different story. By seeing my use of skills with my very eyes, I’m learning to trust my ability to handle difficult situations more, which is helping me learn that I can support myself in crisis moments.

Who knew that tracking a few things on a simple piece of paper could do so much? 

Diary Cards are a critical component to helping people not only follow DBT to fidelity, but they can also help people with BPD regain some control within their life.

Looking for free printable Diary Card templates? Check out the printable samples from DBT Self Help or CBM-DBT.

Want to learn more about Megan’s personal BPD journey? Check out her blog, Living On The Borderline.