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  • Writer's pictureSonia Neale

Why I love working with people with people with Borderline Personality Disorder

As a mental health professional, it can be career damaging to tell clients or other mental health professionals you have a lived experience of any mental illness, even if you are recovered. However, keeping that particular cat in the bag, could mean, a tremendous untapped potential you could use to help your BPD client or any other client in the therapy room.

It’s very well-known in the mental health industry in Australia that I have a recovered lived experience of Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve spoken at seminars, given key-note speeches at conferences, spoken to the print and radio media, both here and overseas. I’ve loved talking about BPD and informing and educating others. I’ve shared my life of the difficulties, loneliness, and the sheer confusion involved with this disorder. I’m also the product of a loving husband and an amazing therapist whom I still see occasionally for service and a tune-up to keep me running smoothly.

Using that knowledge and knowing what helped me, I now work collaboratively as a counsellor/psychotherapist in private practice with a client's narrative, their life story and their individuality. I’ve used my experience to help me guide, support, understand and relate to a client's misery and pain and how to overcome it.

I work with clients in their own narrative to help them understand they have choices, for mastery and control, responsibility and empowerment over their situation. I firmly believe people with BPD can recover without losing any valuable aspect of their unique personality. You didn’t cause your BPD, but you are responsible for healing it. Essentially, my work helps me to connect authentically with others and, in the process learn a little bit more about myself. We can never stop learning who we are.

At a recent seminar BPD was mentioned and some mental health professionals started to snigger about how nothing works with people with BPD. I was appalled. What rock are they living under? Have they not heard of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy? It also takes courage to cold call a therapist for an appointment with a diagnosis of BPD due to fear, shame and guilt, stigma and discrimination.

Marsha Linehan who created Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, and whom has her own lived experience, has helped BPD sufferers with her relatively new therapy mode which targets suicide, self-harm, therapy and therapist destroying behaviours, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness. DBT is effective and has saved lives.

But that’s not the full story. When recovered, some people can subsequently experience, what Marsha calls, a “life of quiet desperation,” which means once the person with BPD has sorted out their emotional lives and are no longer as reactive, they can sometimes feel they have no purpose, no meaning in life. They are well, but not fulfilled. They often wonder, what comes next?

Psychologist Erik Erikson provides us with one explanation on how to find purpose and meaning in later life in the context of a “life timeline”, and this age and stage is called “generativity.” Usually between ages 40 to 65 people can feel an innate concern for others, beside friends and family, which is a need to nurture and guide others, be a mentor or a counsellor for other people in the next generation or the now generation.

You can live desperately or you can live deliberately. Quiet desperation occurs when we resign ourselves to dissatisfaction. Nothing floats our boat anymore. We are not unwell, but we are passive, frustrated, unsure and bewildered. There is no grand passion on the horizon waiting to sweep us off our feet. Living deliberately means sweeping yourself off your feet and walking into the sunset on your own sometimes. Finding your own meaning and purpose. That way your boat floats on the power of your own self-realisation, fulfilment, satisfaction, calmness and inner peace.

So, promote your own inner peace. Take time in nature to focus on how to be alive. Literally. At 57, I am now well aware, thanks to Irvin Yalom, that my time is limited. If my life is a dinner party, we would have finished the main meal and be looking forward to dessert and coffee, a place where I am relaxed, warm, socially engaged, loved and loving, mostly active not reactive, and guided by my “generativity,” my passion for working with people experiencing mental health issues.

And that is why I love working with people with Borderline Personality Disorder.

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