We Lost a Giant From the BPD Community This Past Week

The woman behind the face of the NEABPD passed away, but her work will go on.

Posted Nov 09, 2019

© NEABPD
Source: © NEABPD

The borderline personality disorder (BPD) community suffered an indescribable loss this past week when Perry Hoffman, Ph.D., the president and cofounder of the NEABPD (National Educational Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder), passed away on Sunday, November 3rd. You can go to the website of the NEABPD to read the organization’s loving tribute to its leader. NEABPD is a resource for families and people in recovery. The website, consisting of the efforts of hundreds of presenters, contains the largest global media library on BPD.

Perry was all about families, and she would later codevelop the Family Connections™ program for the families of individuals diagnosed with BPD. She realized that families, too, would benefit from support, skills training, and sometimes their own therapy. The Family Connections™ program is now available internationally and online.

I’ve known Perry since 1991, when I was discharged from the long-term BPD unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Westchester Division in White Plains, NY, and subsequently attended a BPD day-treatment program that was also run by the hospital. Perry was one of the therapists who worked at the day program.  

It’s important to note that in the early 1990s, BPD carried an intense stigma, the prognosis was extremely poor, and most clinicians shied away from treating us because we were perceived as attention-seeking and manipulative, among other things. The group of clinicians at this day program, which included some of the kindest and most dedicated psychiatric professionals I’ve ever met, made a conscious decision to devote their careers to working with patients diagnosed with BPD.

When I made the decision to return to graduate school for social work in 1998, Perry was there to encourage me. Sixteen years had passed since I had set foot in a classroom, and I was terrified. The perfectionist part of my brain was still very much in control, and in my mind, once I took that first step, I needed to complete it with nothing less than a 4.0 GPA. A grade of A- on a paper might as well have been an F.  I did graduate with a 4.0 GPA, but at a cost to my mental health.

One of the requirements in a graduate school program is a statistics class. Everyone hates it, but we all had to muster through it. In order to pass the class, each of us had to develop our own research project and write up the results, utilizing what we'd learned in the class. Typically, if one wants to conduct research using people as subjects, even for a simple questionnaire, one must submit a proposal to prove that no psychological harm will result. I submitted a proposal to the day program where I was once a patient, and the hospital returned the proposal to me, requesting more information.

My overly sensitive brain took this as a rejection, and it was Perry who took me aside, calmed my tears, and gently explained to me that this is something that happens to every researcher. She helped me make the adjustments to the application, and on its second pass, it was accepted.

It turned out that both Perry and I were extreme larks. I’ve always been an early morning person—it’s my most productive time, and I often write for a couple of hours before the sun comes up. Afterward, I’ll have a second or third cup of coffee and read the NY Times. When I’d see a relevant article, I’d email Perry the link and, at about 4:30 a.m., get a “Thank You!” back in my email box.

Her responses, though brief, were full of excitement.

WOW WOW WOW this is terrific!! Hope to read it this morning. Thank you for sending it!

Wow! Thx u!!!

THANK YOU!! I didn't see these!

As busy as she was, whether she was traveling across the country or across the world, Perry remained gracious and had a way of making me feel important. We did a combination talk and reading together at Barnes and Noble when the anthology Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder was released, and in the introductory remarks, she thanked me for organizing the event. In educating the audience about BPD and the importance of family, she mentioned that she had known my mother and that her unconditional support had been a critical part of my ability to recover.

Perry invited me to a weekend training in the spring of 2018, a couple of months before I suffered a stroke, and in a rare moment where she wasn’t surrounded by people, I slid into the seat next to her.  The presenter had been speaking about the importance of finding mentors, and quietly I said to her, “You know, I've considered you a mentor all along.”  

She replied, “Then I must have done a good job.” That was a typical Perry response. She had a way of turning a compliment back on others, so they felt good about themselves.

That was the last time I saw her, and I’m grateful I was able to let her know what a huge part she played in my recovery and what an important influence she has been in my life. Everyone who is part of the BPD community and who has been touched by Perry and her dedication has vowed to carry on her work.

Now that I’m in a position of strength, I promise to do the same. Perry, seemingly tireless as a person, as an advocate, as a clinician, as a researcher, as a teacher, as a mentor—as a kind human being—will be greatly missed.