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Symptoms & Diagnosis

Marsha Linehan Offers Hope by Revealing Her Own Struggle with BPD

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The diagnosis of a mental illness, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), still carries a lot of stigma. Many people are unwilling to admit they have been diagnosed for fear of what that means – both for themselves and those around them. 

Yesterday, one of the foremost experts in mental health revealed her own struggle with mental illness, offering hope to the millions of people who battle psychiatric disorders such as BPD every day. 

Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – a method of therapy widely used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder and other psychiatric disorders – for the first time publicly shared her years of battling BPD in an article in The New York Times

She recounted her time spent in seclusion at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., where she was given electroshock treatments and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Considered “one of the most disturbed patients in the hospital,” Linehan was secluded as a teenager for engaging in self-harmful behaviors that included burning her wrists with cigarettes, cutting herself, and banging her head against the floor. 

“My whole experience of these episodes was that someone else was doing it; it was like ‘I know this is coming, I’m out of control, somebody help me; where are you, God?’” she told The New York Times. “I felt totally empty, like the Tin Man; I had no way to communicate what was going on, no way to understand it.”   

This feeling is not uncommon among people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. And rather than continue to let herself and others struggle with these feelings, Linehan eventually went on to create a method of therapy that could help people better deal with their emotions so they no longer felt the urge to harm or kill themselves. 

“I honestly didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with myself,” she told The Times. “But I suppose it’s true that I developed a therapy that provides the things I needed for so many years and never got.” 

The Creation of Dialectical Behavior Therapy 

That therapy is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, originally created to treat patients who are chronically suicidal, often as a result of BPD. DBT teaches the concept of radical acceptance, along with mindfulness. Patients are taught to accept themselves as they are and life as it is, while learning day-to-day skills needed to better regulate their emotions. 

Studies have shown that people with Borderline Personality Disorder who get BPD treatment using Dialectical Behavior Therapy are less likely to attempt suicide and more likely to stay in treatment. Because of its success, DBT has expanded from just BPD treatment to treatment of such disorders as substance abuse and eating disorders. 

The complete story on Marsha Linehan’s struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder and development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy can be found on The New York Times website.

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