Amber Mulcahy

Thesis title:

Borderline Personality Disorder and the experience of women’s trauma within psychiatry: a service user perspective


My research will examine experiences of trauma among women diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a psychiatric diagnosis characterised by symptoms such as fear of abandonment, suicidal ideation & behaviour, self-harm, stress-related dissociation and unstable relationships (APA, 2013). It is estimated that 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women (APA, 2013), while various research studies indicate a strong association between childhood trauma and the development of BPD in adult life. Battle et al (2004) estimate that 81% report instances of childhood abuse and 90% report neglect. One explanation of this is gendered stereotyping of the BPD diagnosis, with women perceived to be overly-emotional and attention seeking. The negative impact of gendered stereotyping is central to feminist critiques of BPD diagnosis on the grounds that it pathologises women’s struggles and women’s socialisation (Becker, 1997). In addition, current recommended treatment methods such as DBT (Lineham, 2014) and medication (Hilger et al, 2003; Perrella, 2007) fail to address the lasting impact of trauma, which may be essential to the aetiology of Personality Disorders. Sociological and service-user research suggests that voices of BPD service-users go unheard, in part because mental health professionals perceive people diagnosed with BPD to be unreliable witnesses to their own experience (Nehls, 1999). The project will conduct service-user research exploring how women diagnosed with BPD experience their diagnosis and how this is related to trauma. The aim is to produce a rigorous and original scholarly account that explores the lived experience of individuals with this diagnosis and gives voice to their experiences.

First supervisor:

Diana Rose


1 – Health Practices, Innovation & Implementation