Helping parents with BPD

Research to help parents with borderline personality disorder succeed moves to stage 3

PhD candidate and Pitch it Clever prize winner Kayla Steele from the School of Psychology is preparing to begin a randomised control trial for her research into parenting with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and how to prevent the transmission of the disorder across generations.

“We are beginning the trial in Adelaide in collaboration with the BPD Collaborative, which is part of South Australia Health, with plans to expand to other sites down the track,” Ms Steele, a member of UOW’s Project Air Strategy team, said.

“The next milestone will be to get the groups up and running and to collect data from our first participants as this has been a long time coming, especially since COVID-19 turned the world upside down.

“Fingers crossed we can get this happening towards the end of October.”

Ms Steele’s research is focused on helping parents living with BPD, a treatable disorder characterised by intense and hard to control emotions and difficulty maintaining relationships. The mental illness can affect every aspect of a person’s life and parenting can be especially challenging.

The ultimate goal of Ms Steele’s work is to help those with BPD create a family environment where children understand what is going on and feel secure and connected to their parent.

“Research shows that individuals with strong BPD features report significantly greater parenting stress, distress, difficult child and difficult parent-child relationships compared to those with low BPD features. People with a high number of BPD features also report significantly lower parenting satisfaction and efficacy compared to those lower in BPD features,” Ms Steele said.

Research also shows that parenting practices can be modified and therefore it’s possible, with intervention, to improve the parent-child relationship.

“If we can enhance a parent’s reflective capacity and ability to keep their child’s perspective and experience in mind as well as address general psychological wellbeing and challenging personality traits we can strengthen the parent-child relationship, reduce parenting stress and increase parenting competence in at-risk parents and would reduce the risk of intergenerational transmission of BPD.”

The upcoming trial in Adelaide follows a systematic review published by Plos One Open Access journal in October 2019 and a study exploring the role of parental personality disorder on parenting that was published in the BMC journal Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation in May 2020.

Earlier this year in March, Ms Steele won the Universities Australia award at the annual Pitch it Clever competition which challenges early career researchers to clearly communicate their research to a broad audience in a short video (one-to-two minutes).

Ms Steele’s work contributes to the Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders initiative which partners with the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) and the NSW Ministry of Health.

In addition to overall support to the NSW Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol workforce, the initiative has four key areas of interest: self-help and peer support resources; support and programs for parenting with BPD; resources for family and carers of people with BPD; resources for teachers working with young people living with a complex mental illness.