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Well former president, anyway.

I thought I’d share why DBT, DBT-LBC and working as a Board member has made my career as a psychologist a true “life worth living.” I hope it encourages you too.

After I graduated with my Ph.D. in 1985, I started a private practice in Brookfield WI. I didn’t intend to specialize in working with trauma survivors, but we were drawn to each other through shared pain experiences I guess, and I seemed to reach them where others had not been as successful. (Marsha’s identified step in Validation I later came to recognize.). I made a very good living; worked with wonderful clients too. In 1994, when Marsha’s book came out describing DBT, I knew I had found what was missing in all the cognitive, behavioral and exposure work I had been doing. So, I set out to learn and implement it and even was consulted and hired to develop DBT in a local hospital. There I met other dedicated clinicians who also had a passion for delivery of the “real thing” – adherent DBT.

One of those people was Neal Moglowsky. He and I had lunch one day and we started talking about getting Intensively trained and starting our own DBT Program. We dove in, joined forces and entered the world of amazing experts in DBT. Suzanne Witterholt and Alan Fruzzetti were our trainers – and amazing ones they were. Inspiring actually. My clinic, the Center for Behavioral Medicine (CBM), was now primarily a comprehensive DBT program, although I saw other clients too.

Neal, Kim Skerven and I over the years provided DBT to thousands of searching souls. We had the real privilege of offering practicum training to dozens of doctoral and social work students from several colleges and universities. I wish I could let them all know how much they fueled the passion in us to model the commitment it takes to do DBT. I retired from CBM in 2014 after over 30 years in the mental health field.

During the years from 1994 to the present, I also met some pretty fabulous people in our field. I can’t name them all or this would be a never-ending piece. I will say that one highlight was getting awarded the DBT Service award given by Marsha each year at ISITDBT. A sly person assured I was at this meeting, but little did she know that for the first time it was a dual award. Bev Long and I shared this honor that year. I think she was as stunned as I was that two clinicians were honored in this way. I was literally speechless that day – which is pretty uncommon for me.

I was unaware then of all the work behind the scenes of efforts to develop some means of identifying which clinicians were actually doing adherent DBT so the public would know who to trust with their challenging lives. Insurance executives had asked Marsha how to identify who was doing adherent DBT from those who were not. She had a ready answer, “I can tell you who those people are.” I know what you are thinking. “But she doesn’t know me.” And you would be right. How could she know everyone who was committed to adherent DBT? That led those around her to encourage a method for objectively identifying those therapists who could deliver adherent DBT. She agreed; thus, certification development began. I became involved as part of a Task Force in 2011. Marsha, Suzanne, Randy Wolbert, Henry Schmidt, Bev Long, Andre Ivanoff, Alan Fruzzetti, Katie Korslund and I made up this initial group.

Let me just say what an honor it is to have worked with such dedicated and talented people all these years. I wish I could let everyone who has touched my life in this way know what a true blessing they have been.

The DBT-Linehan Board of Certification formally came into existence in 2013. We hired Tim Knettler at that time, and he has guided us along the way with his expert knowledge of how certification organizations work. We started with Katie Korslund as President and I was fortunate to have worked under her tutelage for 6 years before I began to serve as President of DBT-LBC.

Now, in 2020, I have stepped down as President of DBT-LBC to give younger voices a say in the workings of the organization. I will continue to serve on the Board of Directors and in the position of Immediate Past President to offer support as the new President takes the reins. It has truly been one of the proudest opportunities in my career to have been a part of this amazing organization. I am amazed at the colleagues who volunteer their time to contribute to the certification efforts.

The Board members who are serving as of March 2020 – Kim Vay (President), Suzanne Witterholt (Vice President), Henry Schmidt (Secretary), Dan Finnegan (Treasurer), Chris Kallas (Public Member) and the other Members at Large – Katie Korslund, Melanie Harned, Todd Figura, Andre Ivanoff, and of course, Marsha Linehan – our constant inspiration. (Randy Wolbert has just stepped off the Board this year and we thank him for his service all these years.)

I will share this highlight – serving as a Program Certification Reviewer. Of all the people I’ve met in our world of DBT, those who inspire me the most are the dedicated teams who submit themselves and their programs to the scrutiny that is DBT Program Certification. I’ve sat in on Team meetings; met clinicians who are enthusiastic about delivering adherent treatment; interviewed clients who have been the beneficiaries of this treatment; watched talented skills group leaders teach with such passion and creativity the skills that create lives worth living. The words of appreciation they have shared as they have gone through the certification process has made all my efforts truly worth it.

As most of you already know, I am dedicated to Marsha’s legacy. She is one amazing person. If you haven’t already read her memoir, it really is worth it – Building a Life Worth Living. Those experts who continue to research and develop DBT are to be applauded. Those of you who sacrifice to invest in the lives of those who are so challenged, I thank you too. Please work to get certified. It does make a difference in your clinical skills. It is worth it!

I wish I could list every one of you who have made MY life worth living.

Thanks for the privilege of serving.

Joan Russo, Ph.D.
Immediate Past President
DBT – Linehan Board of Certification

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