When Amanda Germain’s husband lost his battle with cancer, the sudden emptiness was a shock. After spending every moment as his caregiver she found she was lost, struggling to care for herself. Previous battles with depression and anxiety manifested themselves during this time, and when the feelings became overwhelming, she went to the hospital and asked for help.
Hospital staff referred Germain to Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (OntarioShores), where she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, an illness that affects elements of a person’s behaviours, reactions and perceptions of the world. The symptoms are often extreme and cause distress to the person experiencing them, as well as to other people in their lives.
Ontario Shores recently opened the Borderline Personality Self-Regulation Clinic to help individuals, 18 years-of-age and older who suffer from this disorder, make positive changes in their lives. When Germain’s social worker recommended she attend the intensive outpatient group program, Germain jumped at the opportunity.
“Talking and being with others who are going through the same things you are is very helpful,” says Germain. “We all see a lot of ourselves in each other, and when we can see our struggles reflected in someone else, it helps us face our own issues and deal with them.”
Germain added that many people who are diagnosed with Borderline Personality tend to be hard on themselves and often self-abuse. Many come from abusive backgrounds and do not gain essential life skills or learn how to build self-esteem and positive relationships. Since beginning treatment at the clinic, Germain has become positive and more assertive, and has also seen significant changes in every person in the group.
“We are survivors, and many of us are still in survivor mode,” she says. “The clinic teaches us skills to live, not merely survive. I wish there could have been something like this 20 years ago.”
Treatment is provided by an interprofessional health-care team including psychologists, social workers, registered nurses and case workers, that works with patients through the program’s three 12 to 16 week phases.
“Our patients are a highly functioning, yet highly sensitive group of individuals who draw a lot of chaos and crisis into their lives,” says Marj Fraser, Registered Nurse at the clinic. “We begin with individual therapy as many individuals are, at first, very emotional and just beginning to understand their disorder. From there we move to group therapy where participants can practice relationship strategies with a peer group that provides empathy, expertise and insight.”
Fraser added that clinic staff facilitate the group therapy sessions, assist in goal setting and achievement, and provide family counselling to help patients, and their families, transition back to their lives.
“Ontario Shores is proud to provide this unique outpatient service within our community,” says Sheila Neuburger, Vice-President Clinical Services at Ontario Shores. “The Borderline Personality Self-Regulation clinic not only provides our patients with the opportunity to receive timely and efficient access to specialized care, but offers counselling and support groups for loved ones so the whole family can be engaged in the recovery process.”
The clinic is housed in two locations,Whitbyand Lindsay, and staff utilize video conferencing technology through Ontario Telemedicine Network so patients can participate in treatment options and group sessions in either location. Patients are also welcome to use other services provided by the hospital such as the Metabolic and Weight Management Clinic, Vocational Services and the central recreation area, which includes a gym, pool and games section.
People with Borderline Personality Disorder are highly functioning adults who struggle more with their emotions than the average person. This can often lead to relationship difficulties, severe depression, suicide and other crises.
“I have worked with these individuals for more than 15 years, and it’s very rewarding because of the profound changes they can make if they are willing and wanting to do that,” says Fraser. “Our patients move forward, and often call us years later to share their success. We all have elements of Borderline Personality; these people just need a little more help to manage their emotions.”
Now, just a little under the half-way point in her treatment, Germain has made significant progress on her journey to recovery. Through treatment models such as Mentalization-Based Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, she has gained more independence, is less reactive and is learning to manage her own life.
“I’ll always be a highly sensitive person,” says Germain. “But with the care I’m getting at the clinic and through the kindness and compassion of the staff, my quality of life has improved and I’m learning the building blocks to become an independent and positive person in the world.”