“This study was designed to align with social work values by emphasizing interdisciplinary and multiple agency collaboration, the rights of family members with lived experience to actively direct their care, and the expertise of social workers in the provision of psychotherapy and family interventions.”
FUNDED BY THE OASW ACCELERATOR RESEARCH GRANTS PROGRAM
A Study Examining the Impact of Support Provided to Family Members of Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder
By Megan Cameron, MSW, RSW; Tracey Holz, RN, MN, RP, CPMHN(C); Krystle Martin, PhD, C. Psych; Jennifer Muller, RN, RP; Gwenne Woodward, MSW, RSW
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of the most functionally disabling mental disorders.1-3It is characterized by pervasive patterns of emotional dysregulation and is often accompanied by self-harm behaviours and suicidal ideation.1,4,5These behaviours are often poorly understood by family members who may perceive communications with their loved one as frightening, unexpected, demanding, or unrealistic. As a result, individuals with BPD often feel invalidated and the cycle of emotion dysregulation and invalidation can lead to worsening symptoms and a breakdown of family relationships. It is not uncommon to hear a family member of an individual with BPD describe feeling overwhelmed4, burdened, and blamed for their loved one’s illness. Due to the significant impacts of BPD, access to effective treatments and supports are needed for both the individual with BPD and their family. Social workers try to support individuals and their family members to manage these stressors; however, BPD is highly stigmatized and is often an exclusionary criteria for many services due to difficulty providing effective treatment.9 Compounding the problem, evidence-informed family supports are not often included in treatment and social workers often have difficulties finding appropriate resources to support a family member. While dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is the gold standard treatment for individuals with BPD, it does not intervene directly at the environmental level.7 In response to this gap in treatment service, the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder’s Family Connections™ (FC) program was developed. The FC program is an evidence-informed, peer-led educational model that provides education, DBT skills, and support for family members. The 12-week program is led by trained family member volunteers10who are non-professionals with the lived-experience of being a family member of an individual who has BPD. The value that this program places in engaging people with personal experiences as partners in the helping process truly embodies social work values.12In many areas in Ontario, the FC program is currently offered free of charge to family members through the Sashbear Foundation, a foundation dedicated to increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and increasing access of affordable treatment/ support for individuals with emotional dysregulation and their families.13Despite growing availability of family support across Ontario and throughout other parts of the country, there is minimal research available to understand the impact of BPD on family functioning and the impact of family relationships on the client with BPD. Additionally, evidence exists to support the inclusion of family interventions as an important component of treatment for other psychiatric disorders;8,10,11however, little research has focused on the needs of family members of individuals with BPD.3,7 The purpose of this study was to address the gaps in research and service provision to explore the impact of FC on both family members and their loved ones receiving treatment for BPD in our clinic.
Interested family members and loved ones of clients within the BPSRC volunteered to participate in the 12-week FC program. Both clients of the BPSRC program and their family members took part in focus groups and completed standardized measures before (pre), immediately after (post), and 3 months following (follow-up) the intervention. The study is currently in the data analytic and interpretation phase. The impact of the intervention on family members and clients is being assessed by examining the change in burden and coping for family members and the change in coping, BPD symptoms, and emotion regulation in clients. Additionally, qualitative thematic analysis of the focus group responses to open-ended questions are expected to illuminate the families’ and clients’ perceptions of and experiences with coping, communication, and relationships as a result of the FC program. Responses will also be examined to identify themes with respect to barriers and facilitators to group involvement and positive outcomes.
The intent of this study is to improve our understanding of the effects of family-led interventions for family members of people with BPD on family members and their loved ones. Findings will help to address the knowledge and service gaps that currently exist. There is a need to implement treatment models that help the complex and highly stigmatized experiences of individuals with BPD and their families. The outcomes of this study will contribute to our understanding of the usefulness of family interventions for individuals with BPD, their family members, and their health of their overall relationship.14 While the focus of this study is at the micro-level of impact of the intervention on the individuals involved, it has the potential to influence system-level changes by highlighting the value of the provision of direct support to family members as a method that can impact both the family member and the individual receiving services.
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12. National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (2008). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, DC: Author. https://www.socialworkers.org/
13. The Sashbear Foundation. (2011). Family Connections TM Program. http://sashbear.org/en/family-
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