Charlie Swenson Biography

Biography 2017-10-18T21:59:57+00:00

I am Charlie Swenson, a psychiatrist on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. I spent my childhood in Oregon, hoping to play basketball for a living, then attended Harvard College (majoring in Biology) and Yale University Medical School. I continued at Yale for my psychiatric residency training, which I completed in 1980. I undertook psychoanalytic training at the Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute in New Haven, Connecticut.

In 1982, I accepted a faculty position at Cornell University Medical School Department of Psychiatry, where I directed the long term inpatient psychotherapy treatment unit developed by Dr. Otto Kernberg for the psychoanalytic treatment of severe personality disorders. I published several articles on inpatient care and the psychoanalytically oriented treatment of severe personality disorders.

Charlie portrait
Group Picture of meeting attendants

When looking for an alternative treatment approach for a particular patient on the unit in 1987, I learned about Marsha Linehan’s new model for treating borderline personality disorder with cognitive behavioral principles supplemented by Zen mindfulness practices and dialectical philosophy. After a visit to see Linehan at the University of Washington, I was impressed by the possibilities. I undertook cognitive behavioral training and implemented DBT on a separate inpatient unit at the same hospital. I went on to write articles and book chapters about DBT and the treatment of borderline personality disorder (see references below).

After adapting DBT to my own inpatient and day hospital contexts, I proceeded to train others and to direct DBT implementation projects across the United States, Canada, and Europe. In the past three years I have overseen implementation projects in Italy, Sweden, and the Kaiser Permanente Clinics in the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, and have directed intensive and advanced intensive DBT trainings every year. In 1997 I was the co-founder of the International Society for the Improvement and Teaching of DBT (ISITDBT), which continues to thrive today.

I moved with my family to Northampton, Massachusetts in 1996, where I have lived ever since. Since 1997 I have been an Associate Professor on the University of Massachusetts Medical School faculty and have played several roles with the Western Massachusetts Area of the Department of Mental Health, where I was for several years the Medical Director. I have facilitated the development of DBT for adults and adolescents in Western Massachusetts, throughout the state, and to lesser extent throughout New England. I have directed ten-day intensive DBT trainings every year since 1994, often two or three times per year. In 2015 I was certified as a DBT therapist by the Linehan Institute Board of Certification.

At this point I base my clinical practice, including DBT, in Northampton, Massachusetts. I split my time between seeing patients and families in my practice, consulting to programs and therapists, writing, and conducting a range of DBT workshops and presentations. As a teacher I am known for my enthusiasm, clinical stories, role plays, and humor. I have written fourteen songs based on DBT, several of which have been performed at the ISITDBT meetings and some workshops.

Charlie on a podium during a presentation
Cover of Charlie's book DBT Principles in Action

After decades of adapting DBT to different populations and environments, I have grasped not only the theory, the structure, the strategies, and the skills of DBT, but the foundational principles as well.

To consolidate my understanding of DBT’s principles for myself, and to communicate it to others in the hopes that they could more effectively, flexibly, and compassionately navigate challenging clinical situations, I wrote my book, DBT Principles in Action: Acceptance, Change, and Dialectics (Guilford Press, 2016). This has opened the door for me to consider the application of the principles and the skills to various non-clinical populations and circumstances. This will be explored on this website.


  1. Providing a Constructive Hospitalization for a Young Child and Her Mother (260 pp.), thesis submitted to Yale School of Medicine, 1976. (available, in library, Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, CT)
  2. “Modification of destructiveness in the long term inpatient treatment of severe personality disorders,” Swenson C., International Journal of Therapeutic Communities. 7(3): 1986, pp. 153-163
  3. “The community meeting for inpatient borderlines,” Swenson C., Gartner Jl, International Journal of Therapeutic Communities. 8(2): 1987, pp. 109-111
  4. “Incest in female borderlines: its frequency and impact,” Stone M., Unwin A., Beacham B., Swenson C., International Journal of Family Psychiatry, 9(3), Fall, 1988, pp. 277-293
  5. “Acting out of separation conflicts in borderline pathology: an empirical case study,” Handley R., Swenson C., in The Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 53(1), January 1989, pp. 18-30
  6. “Kernberg and Linehan: two approaches to the borderline patient,” Swenson C., Journal of Personality Disorders, Vol. 3(1), March, 1989, pp. 26-35
  7. “Types of large group meetings in the therapeutic community,” Swenson C., Munich R., Psychiatry, 52 (4), November, 1989, pp. 437-445
  8. “Forms of fusion,” in: Current and Historical Perspectives on the Borderline Patient, ed. R. Fine, Brunner/Mazel, 1989, pp. 367-376
  9. “Issues involved in combining drugs with psychotherapy for the borderline inpatient,” Swenson C., Johnston M., Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 13(2), June, 1990, pp. 297-306
  10. “Supportive elements in the inpatient treatment of borderline patients,” in: Supportive Psychotherapy for Borderline Patients, ed. L. Rockland, Guilford Press, 1992
  11. “Il problema dell’identificazione proiettiva,” in: Il Disturbo Borderline di Personalita, ed. C. Maffei, Bollati Boringhiere, 1993
  12. “Die anwendung der ‘dialectisch-behavioralen therapie fur borderline storungen im stationaren bereich,” (the application of dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorders in hospital treatmenbt), Bohus M., Swenson C., Sender I., Kern I., Berger M., Psychotherapie in Psychiatrie, Psychotherapeut. Mideizin un Klin. Psychologie, Jahrgang 1996, Band 1, Heft 1 CIP Medien, pp. 32-43
  13. “Verso un approccio integrato di due modelli di gestione dell’ esperienza emotive del paziente borderline and trattomento ospedaliero (two inpatient treatment models for the borderline patient: comparing and contrasting), Swenson C., Sanderson C., in: ed. Barone L, Maffei C, Emozione E Conoscenze Nei Disturbi Di Personalitya, Milano, Italy, FrancoAngeli Press, 1997
  14. “The application of dialectical behavior therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder on inpatient units,” Swenson C., Sanderson, C., Dulit R., Linehan, M, Psychiatric Quarterly, 72(4), 2001, pp. 307-324
  15. “How can we account for dbt’s widespread popularity?” Swenson C., Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 7(1), Spring, 2000, pp. 87-91
  16. “Implementing dialectical behavior therapy,” Swenson C., Torrey W., Koerner K., Psychiatric Services, 53(2), February, 2002, pp. 171-178
  17. “Borderline personality disorder,” Swenson C., Linehan M., chapter in Adult Psychopathology Case Studies, ed. Weiner IB, John Wiley Publications, 2003
  18. “Dialectical behavior therapy on inpatient units”, Swenson C., Witterholt S., Bohus M., chapter in Dialectical Behavior Therapy in Clinical Practice, ed., Dimeff L., Koerner K., Guilford press, 2007
  19. “Approaches to psychotherapy for borderline personality: demonstrations by four master clinicians,” Hopwood, C.J., Swenson, C.R., Bateman, A., & Yeomans, F.E., Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, Vol. 5, (1), 2014, pp 108-116.
  20. “Mentalization and dialectical behavior therapy,” Journal of Psychotherapy June, 2015
  21. DBT Principles in Action: Acceptance, Change, Dialectics. July, 2016.. Guilford Press: New York.

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