June 25, 2014

CASE STUDY LORNA* noticed that around the age of 11 her outgoing, extroverted sister Tracey* gradually withdrew from society and became extremely quiet.

During her teens Tracey continued to be very introverted, avoided communicating with her family and friends and developed deliberate self-harming tendencies, which she mostly hid from her family.

As she entered adulthood her family became increasingly aware of her desperation and self-destructive behaviours, and she attended different counsellors and therapists and tried various medications – to no avail.

On her mother's death, when she was aged 25, Tracey reached a crisis point in her life and was in complete despair.

Lorna felt helpless to assist her.

However, in 2008, following a stay in an acute psychiatric unit, and with Lorna's support, she was referred to the HSE's Home Crisis Team.

They referred her on to the dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) team led by HSE south Principal Psychologist Daniel Flynn.

Mr Flynn and his colleagues assessed and diagnosed Tracey with borderline personality disorder and encouraged her to take part in a 12-month DBT programme.

Today, aged 31, Tracey has regained control of her life, is able to manage her emotions and is no longer taking large quantities of medication.

According to Lorna, all members of the family's lives changed phenomenally from the moment Tracey started the programme.

Lorna also agreed to take part in the DBT family support programme to learn how to assist Tracey through the treatment process.

"The hopelessness I continually encountered in trying to support her has lifted and now she has re-gained control over her life. I no longer need to provide 24/7 crisis support to her.

"I lived on edge for years, waiting for the phone to ring and always had my car keys to hand ready to run to her aid – but that's no longer my reality," Lorna said.

Tracey attended the first dialectical behaviour therapy course organised by Mr Flynn in 2010 and learned how to manage her self-harming tendencies.

Since graduating, she has gone from deliberate self-harming once a week to perhaps annually and it no longer needs medical attention.

"Previously if she self-harmed she had no regret whereas today she knows that it won't solve her problems or improve her sense of well-being.

"Furthermore, I have learned from DBT that by supporting her 24/7 and taking responsibility for her life, I was in fact assisting her to remain out of control and not take responsibility for her emotions and actions.

"If it wasn't for DBT, my sister would not be here today. I am sure of that," she said.

• Names have been changed to protect the clients' identities.

First appeared in the Evening Echo: 24-June-2014.