Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is recognized as a leading evidence-based treatment, effective in reducing symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), as well as co-occurring clinical syndromes. However, symptom remission may not be the same as a life experienced as worth living. The purpose of the study was to understand, from the perspective of individuals with lived experience, the concepts of recovery, life experienced as worth living and flourishing after treatment for BPD, and to describe the pathways to wellness after symptom remission.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine adult women previously diagnosed with BPD, co-occurring clinical syndromes and severe self-harm behaviour who self-identified as recovered for a minimum of two years, recruited from a network for individuals with lived experience. The average duration of recovery was 5.7 years with a range from 2 to 10 + years. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.
Four main themes and 14 subthemes were generated from our analyses. Main themes indicated that loved ones helped recovery and to create a life worth living, that participants identified as recovered and as healthy and beyond, and that becoming well is a long process associated in part with reclaiming a healthy identity. Participants defined recovery as separate but related to a life worth living, which in turn was separate but related to being healthy and having lives they described as being beyond health and well-being. The wellness process was described as lengthy and non-linear, including setbacks that with time no longer derailed daily life. A proposed theoretical model depicting the wellness process over time from symptom remission to the experience of a life beyond health and wellness is presented.
This qualitative study contributes knowledge of what a life experienced as worth living means, as well as how wellness progressed into flourishing for some participants within a sample of individuals with lived experience. Our findings may inform treatment development that targets more than symptom reduction, which in turn may shorten trajectories from symptom remission to health, wellness, and flourishing.