Australian-first parenting intervention for personality disorders

Australian-first parenting intervention for personality disorders

A new program that helps people with personality disorders cope with the challenges of parenting was launched at UOW recently.

The Project Air Strategy Parenting Program, launched on Friday 6 November by NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley at the 9th Annual Conference on the Treatment of Personality Disorders, has been designed to assist mental health workers to help people with Borderline Personality Disorder strengthen and enhance their parenting skills.

Clinical psychologist Dr Marianne Bourke, from UOW’s School of Psychology and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, helped develop the program. She said the key aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder, including an impaired sense of self and capacity to relate to others as well as impulsive behaviours and emotional sensitivity, can make it difficult to effectively parent.

“Parents with a personality disorder experience considerable challenges, yet their role as a parent is often overlooked.”

“We know that children of parents with a mental illness are twice to three times more likely to experience their own mental health difficulties. Providing support to enhance parenting capacities is key to improving adult mental health and decreasing the transmission of mental illness from one generation to the next.”

Dr Bourke said intervention programs for parents and caregivers with mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders have been shown to be helpful, however, this is the first parenting intervention program to specifically help people with a personality disorder.

The program incorporates evidence-based resources and training for NSW health professionals and has already been piloted in several locations around NSW and the ACT, including the Orange, Coffs Harbour, Sydney and Canberra, receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Dr Bourke said parents with a mental illness deserve our support, particularly those struggling with a personality disorder, which often comes with considerable stigma.

“Parenting can be challenging at the best of times, but when you have mental health difficulties, it becomes amplified.”

“We want to spread the word that having a personality disorder doesn’t mean you can’t be a good parent,” she said. “A lot of patients are afraid to be honest with their doctors. These resources help them have conversations with health professionals to help them and their children stay on track.”

“Our program aims to provide patients with the tools they need to ensure their children are safe. For example, we encourage patients to create a Family Crises Care Plan that can be followed if they are unwell. This plan identifies a nominated carer and priorities the safety and needs of children at times of crisis. This can be very reassuring for both parents and children and can help to make separation manageable.” 

The Project Air Strategy Parenting Program, a collaboration between UOW, the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, MH- Children and Young People, Local Health Districts and Community, will be incorporated into the Project Air Strategy training currently being implemented throughout local health districts across NSW led by Professor Brin Grenyer.

The 9th Annual Conference on the Treatment of Personality Disorders hosted by the Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders, in collaboration with NSW Health, brought together health professionals, consumers, family and community members over two days (Friday 6 - Saturday 7 November) at UOW.

Keynote speakers included Sonia Neale from Edith Cowan University, who presented on the crucial topic of holistic quality treatment and care and Dr Dolores Mosquera, who directs one of the leading treatment and research programs for personality disorders in Spain. She discussed the disorder from a practitioner's perspective.

Note to media: The new Project Air Parenting Resources can be viewed below.
Project Summary
Brief Intervention Manual
Short Film
Fact Sheets and Help Sheets.

More information: