Self-Exploration Using a DBT House

self-exploration-using-a-dbt-houseI recently purchased a new book for counseling (thanks to a referral from one of my LinkedIn contacts) titled Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills: 101 Mindfulness Exercises and Other Fun Activities for Children and Adolescents. It’s such a long name for a book, but I have found great activities inside.

One of the activities I absolutely love so far is creating what they call a “DBT House.” Here’s how it works:

Creating Your House Template:

Draw an outline of the house. Be sure to include a floor, roof, door, chimney, four levels, and a billboard above the house. The house will be used to represent the participant’s life.


If you buy the book, you can use their outline for a house if desired. I prefer to draw my own house, or have the client draw their house.

Picture of DBT house from the book.

Picture of DBT house from the book.

Parts of the House:

Foundation: On the floor of the house, write the values that govern your life.

Walls: Along the walls, write anything or anyone who supports you.

Roof: On the roof, name the things or people that protect you.

Door: Write the things that you keep hidden from others.

Chimney: Coming out of the chimney, write down ways in which you blow off steam.

Billboard: On the billboard, write the things you are proud of and want others to see.

Levels of the House:

Level 1: List behaviors that you are trying to gain control over or areas of your life you want to change.

Level 2: List or draw emotions you want to experience more often, more fully, or in a more healthy way.

Level 3: List all the things you are happy about or want to feel happy about.

Level 4: List or draw what a “Life Worth Living” would look like for you.

Have you used this activity or a similar activity? What kinds of questions would you ask after completing this activity?

  • Danielle

    Loved doing this. The door part really struck a chord emotionally-I immediately knew what I needed to put, but it was still a tiny bit scary and uncomfortable.

    • So glad you got something out of this activity! Often verbalizing or writing something down is the hardest part. Thank you for sharing!

      • Danielle

        Thank you!!

  • Jessica

    I am about to use this activity today for a session with an adult with traumatic brain injury. Just curious about what kinds of results others have experienced. How have they processed the results and what questions have arised from completing the activity. Thanks!

    • I’m curious how your activity went. Many of my clients found this helpful in acknowledging areas in their lives they felt full or lacking, such as in the area of support and protection.

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  • Kellee

    What types of follow up questions might you ask with adolescent boys?

    • Hi Kellee! This is a great question. I’m embarrassed for being so far behind but glad to finally catch up and answer these wonderful questions and comments! The book actually had another level of this activity that went into more depth, and which may be appropriate for the adolescent boys. I also find that boys tend to take the role of protector in their family if a father figure is absent. I think it would be interesting to find out if the boy finds himself in any of those roles in his family, such as the “support” or “foundation” of the house. These questions can really be used with girls too though!

  • Katie Killham

    Thanks so much! I’m going to use this today with my adolescent DBT group. They love anything involving art, so I think they will be engaged with this assignment. I love your site!

    • Thank you Katie! I hope this works well with your DBT group! Please let me know how it goes! 🙂

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  • Hi Kim,
    Love this idea for the DBT house. I am from NZ and we have a model we use in practice here by Mason Durie called Te Whare Tapa Wha (Tea Far-Eee Tar-par Far) which is a holistic wellbeing model. You can probably google it. I was quite inspired by the way that the DBT house would fit in with the idea of Te Whare Tapa Wha within counselling.
    Thank-you for sharing.

    • Hi Dawn, I read some brief information on this model of therapy and you are right! It does fit in well! Thanks for reading and sharing!

  • Lindsay

    I am a co-occurring clinician working in an intensive CD OP with men. The debrief I did began with the question, ‘Who has experience working as a contractor?’ As most, if not all, of my clients have helped to build / fix houses, the use of analogy worked wonderfully:
    Tell me about your roof – is it secure or are some of the shingles falling off?
    Are there enough supports for all four floors?
    Tell me what happens when a chimney isn’t cleaned regularly (it could burn down a house), also note that a chimney usually impacts all four floors.
    Look at the foundation – is it strong / secure enough to survive the moles, mice and other animals that will try to dig around to get in?
    *Would you buy this house?*

    • Lindsay

      A client talked about his house needing paint, which led to a discussion aesthetics or presenting a front while in treatment: A carpet gets dirty, bedraggled, but you may find that lifting it will reveal hardwood floors. If we don’t fill holes in the walls, what good does paint do?

    • That’s very interesting. Thanks for sharing Lindsay.

  • imnmle2

    Hey I was asked by my DBT group leader to do a mindfulness exercise at next weeks group and I was thinking of doing this one. I was just wondering if this would be an appropriate exercise, and what kind of follow up I would do if anything. Thanks.

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  • Cindy

    I am working with my granddaughter who has some issues going on in her life. But she lives in Texas and I am in Tennessee. I am a mental health worker and have worked with a lot of children with all kinds of disorders. I have seen many of your activities that I can’t wait to try with my granddaughter.

    • Cindy, thank you so much for taking the time to share this with me! I’m glad the activities are helpful for you.

  • Michele K

    I have used something similar using a picture of a tennis shoe. Sole of shoe is who supports you, inside shoe-what helps keep you comfortable and protected, laces- what helps hold you together, etc etc.

    • Michele, what a creative idea! Thank you so much for reading and sharing!!

  • Martia


    I’m thinking of buying this book, have you found it helpful for children? I work with children mostly between 5-10.

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  • Micah O. Briggs

    Kim I greatly appreciate your website. I am new to the field and I’m currently working as a full time PE teacher during the day and a MHP in the evenings. I need to submerse myself in the basics of counseling and DBT. What advice can you offer me in addition to sites and books you could refer me to. I’m in desperate need of guidance. I don’t want to steer my clients in the wrong direction.

    • Micah, I suggest finding continuing ed courses on DBT. This is a technique that you want to receive adequate training on and books and articles just dont do the job sometimes. I also suggest seeking a clinical mentor or supervisor for the DBT. There are so many various circumstances in our field and you will no doubt have questions along the way. best of luck!

  • Deniz

    Hi! Thanks for sharing this nice information! 🙂 I will be a psychology student. I couldn’t understand a point. for example will i tell anybody “List behaviors that you are trying to gain control over or areas of your life you want to change.” and write them down in the first level or i will only tell write down then they will write any of level? I hope you reply. Thanks. 🙂 Have a nice day! 🙂

    • Hi Deniz! I tend to use my instinct on the client I am working with…especially developmental age. This activity can offer some very insightful, but abstract, ideas. However, younger children won’t grasp the abstract portion, so the levels are not as necessary. The free creativity for a child can be healing and give you an opportunity to learn more about them. Drawing pictures in the house can also be helpful. I hope this answers your questions. If not, write me back. Best of luck and I’m glad to hear you are seeking activities and knowledge in the field 🙂

  • Brian Davis

    Hello! I really like this activity with children and adults. I have also found a modified grief and loss version that has been really helpful. I have used this in many different situations and sometimes even as a first session tool. Thanks for this.