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Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): Urge Surfing

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Urge surfing is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy technique that can be used to cope with maladaptive behaviors. Instead of giving into an urge, you will “ride it out”, like how a surfer rides a wave. Eventually, the urge will naturally go away.

Urge surfing can be used to reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol and/or substances, help emotional reactions, gambling, self-mutilation, and much more.

Just like a wave, the urge comes and goes. The urge has a starting point or “trigger”, gradually builds up to a “rise”, has its “peak”, and “falls”.

Trigger: An urge is triggered by a thought, person, place, or feeling.

Rise: The urge starts to get more intense. The rate at which this can happen varies.

Peak: The urge reaches its most intense point. This is usually the most unbearable part of the

urge, because it feels like it is never going to end.

Fall: The urge becomes less intense and begins going away.

Practicing Urge Surfing

  • Acknowledge you are having an urge.

  • Practice radical acceptance of the urge. Radical acceptance is the process of accepting your thoughts or feelings about the urge without trying to change them or ignore them.

  • Important things to remember:

o It’s okay to have urges. It is a natural reaction to addictions and habits.

o Some discomfort is normal. Remember that the discomfort is temporary and will

go away eventually.

o It is your choice whether to act on an urge. You can’t control the feeling you’re

experiencing, but you can control your actions following that feeling.

o All urges will eventually pass on their own. They don’t last forever, even though

it may feel that way in the moment.

Other Ways to Resist Urges

  • Be aware of your triggers. Have a plan in place to help you in case if you encounter one of your triggers.

  • When you are experiencing an urge, do something to take your mind off it.

o Examples: Go for a walk, listen to your favorite music, talk to a close friend,

spend time with your pet.

Alyssa Wence is a Mental Health Counselor Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. She works with children (ages 6 and up), teens, adults, couples and families. She has experience working with mental health crises and with clients with a variety of struggles such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. Click here to schedule an appointment.

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