Dr. Perry Hoffman
by Alan E. Fruzzetti
Already six months have passed since Perry Hoffman died November 3, 2019. BPD Awareness Month gives us the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate Perry’s enduring legacy, her creations and contributions to so many people and corners of our world, and to highlight the ways that we can continue her efforts and, in doing so, also honor her.
Here are a few of Perry’s many professional accomplishments and roles, and some of the ways she inspired us:
- Leader in DBT: Perry learned DBT directly from Dr. Marsha Linehan in the very first group of clinicians outside Seattle to do this. Eventually, Perry took over running the DBT day treatment program at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
- Researcher: In the late 1990s Perry and Dr. Jill Hooley published important research that began to evaluate the role and effects of family relationships and family interactions in BPD. Perry was instrumental in many more research studies since then on BPD, the experience of family members, and on Family Connections.
- Founder of NEA-BPD: Recognizing the suffering of people with BPD and their families, Perry founded the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder in 2002, leading a small group of family members, consumers and professionals. BPD is a pernicious disorder, full of emotional suffering, high rates of suicidality, and is almost always accompanied by family members who suffer along with their loved ones. Under her leadership, NEA-BPD quickly became THE place to go as a resource, for people with BPD, for their families, and for professionals. She got NIMH funding to hold 5 national conferences – always including consumers, family members and professionals – and turned that small grant into more than 50 conferences in the U.S. and abroad. These conferences provided, and continue to provide, state of the art knowledge to thousands, granting everyone access to international experts by putting these teaching videos onto the internet. NEA-BPD still has the largest video library in the world concerning BPD and emotion dysregulation, and these conferences continue today all over the world. NEA-BPD, of course, was the center platform for Perry’s work for almost 20 years.
- International Leader: Not content with establishing NEABPD just in the U.S., she helped launch NEA-BPD affiliates in many other countries around the world, places as diverse geographically and culturally as Spain, Israel, Poland, and Australia.
- Tireless Innovator: Recognizing the enormous needs of families with a loved one with BPD, Perry and I created the Family Connections program (FC), with help from many family members. At the time, I thought FC might help some dozens of families – maybe even hundreds – over time. However, Perry had a vision and, as you know, I was wrong: FC is now working in more than 22 countries and has served tens of thousands of families across the globe largely due to her tirelessness, vision, and ability both to inspire and empower others – with completely free access for all. In 2019, Perry secured funding so that the FC program can be put on-line in the coming year, providing free access to thousands more families. In addition, over the past few years, Perry recognized that a child’s self-harm and suicidality can be traumatic for their parents. Perry again lit a fire and with her colleagues helped the development of a second version of Family Connections (FC-Managing Suicidality and Trauma Recovery or FC-MSTR) specifically for parents whose kids have made suicide attempts. She was tireless in her efforts to help others. We have been piloting this new FC program in the U.S. and Canada with excellent results, and will being rolling it out as soon as COVID-19 risks abate. Perry’s energy seemed boundless (perhaps in part fueled by pilfered chocolate). Although 75 years old at her death, she had more energy than many people half her age (and, she pretty successfully hid her actual age from everyone outside her family).
- Advocate: Seeing the widespread misallocation of resources around early intervention for suicidality, Perry organized two Congressional Briefings, somehow enlisting many members of Congress to sponsor them, and then helped Congressional allies move forward to build stronger prevention efforts.
- Thought Leader: Aware of the growing epidemic of self-harm and suicide among youth, Perry again worked with an international group of experts and helped marshal professionals from many countries to create the Global Alliance for the Prevention and Early Intervention of BPD. GAP programs continue to grow across the planet today, continuing to reduce stigma associated with BPD and emotion dysregulation and to provide professionals across many disciplines the tools they need to identify and refer people to appropriate resources.
- Connecter: Anyone who knew Perry was, no doubt, introduced by her to another like-minded person (or many) with whom they could join to do important work. Perry seemed to know everyone, and could take the germ of an idea someone had and immediately connect that person with others to take on all manner of projects, big and small. She inspired others to action and cajoled more work out of everyone than they initially intended to provide. She left people empowered to be their best and to help others who were suffering.
- Warm, supportive and validating friend and colleague: This last set of traits, of course, was the glue that allowed Perry to be so empowering and successful in all of her other accomplishments. Not only did Perry know everyone, but she took the time to listen and understand, to support and validate. She was genuine and warm, and led others to put their best feet forward by her example.
Amazingly, all of these activities and programs that Perry started or inspired have endured. Indeed, because of her ability to connect and empower people to do important work, she brought out the best among professionals, family members, researchers, policy specialists and people with BPD and its related problems, inspiring all to step up and focus their activities on improving the lives of people who are suffering. Each of us will have to step up because we no longer have Perry to imagine the next important thing we need to do. We will have to figure that out together, in her honor, and with the inspiration she imbued in all of us.
Because her legacy is intact and all of us continue to work together, I imagine that what each of us will continue to miss most will be her warm and supportive presence in our lives. I continue to miss Perry every day, as so many of you do, also.