Taking Giant Steps Toward My Dream of Mental Health Advocacy

In addition to writing, I'm adding speaking to my stigma-fighting lineup.

Posted May 11, 2020

I’m excited about a free live webinar I’m scheduled to give at 1 p.m. May 24. The webinar is being given in conjunction with the NEABPD (National Education Alliance of Borderline Personality Disorder). The title is “Harmony in BPD Recovery: How both DBT and TFP led to full recovery from BPD.” I’m going to talk about how I needed both DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and TFP (Transference-Focused Therapy) to achieve full and sustained recovery from BPD.

I maintain that the intensive TFP treatment I received with my then psychiatrist and therapist, Dr. Lev (not her real name), saved my life, but I could not have tolerated the powerful emotions the TFP triggered without being self-destructive if I didn’t have my DBT skills to fall back on.

I definitely had my moments, like when I attempted suicide in 2014. The suicide attempt was an implosion of a lifetime of resentment and anger I’d built up towards my father. When he passed away in 2013, and I realized (unconsciously) that I no longer had the opportunity to confront him—or hear him tell me I was good enough—what started out as a depression swelled into feelings of anger I couldn’t handle, because anger was not a feeling that was permitted in my childhood home. I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t even know how to verbalize it. So I tried to overdose.

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After I returned to therapy with Dr. Lev, we began the most intense work of our 11 years together, and I needed my DBT skills more than ever. Distress tolerance, radical acceptance, mindfulness, and wise mind were—and still are—the skills I call on the most often.

I want to spread the word that although DBT may be the first-line treatment for BPD, there are viable alternatives. TFP is very different from DBT in that the premise of DBT is staying in the here and now, and TFP is a psychodynamically oriented treatment based on the relationship between the therapist and the client. The premise of TFP is that the developing relationship between the therapist and the client is a mirror for all of the client’s relationships, past and present, and as the client learns more effective ways of interacting with the therapist, she will mirror those skills in all of her other relationships. The psychodynamic part of it comes into play as the client delves into her past and may discover the root of why she has engaged in the self-destructive behaviors she has up to this point in her life.

Source: Unsplash

TFP is difficult work, and there were many times I ducked into the ladies' room to compose myself before leaving the building where Dr. Lev had her office. She was a big believer in the strict 45-minute hour, so there was no going past the allotted time to “pull myself together.” More often than not, there was another patient in the waiting room by the time my session was over.

I’m excited, but I’m also nervous, which is natural, I guess. I actually like public speaking when the topic is something I’m passionate about, such as telling my story to make the point that recovery from severe mental illness is possible. I feel as though when I speak out, I do my part in chipping away at the stigma that exists around mental illness and make it possible to extend the conversation.

Register for the webinar here.