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New York City Program Helps Individuals Suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder Prepare for Employment

With the national economy faltering and the unemployment rolls rising every month, it’s tough for Americans not to become depressed and worried about their financial stability and economic future. However, those individuals who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD) may find themselves particularly demoralized by the current economic climate compared to most segments of the U.S. population.

Though individual therapy is the path that many people with BPD choose to follow, there is a program in New York City that specifically focuses on helping to boost the morale and confidence of those with BPD wishing to renter the workforce. This program is called The Connections Place (TCP), and is a job preparedness program uniquely developed for individuals who are suffering from BPD, or who have features of BPD. TCP teaches skills to overcome emotional issues related to working, as well as skills to improve vocational readiness for employment.

TCP was co-founded in 2006 by Beth Elliott, Ph.D., and Dale Terilli. “Many people with BPD who are not working find themselves demoralized, lacking structure and direction in their lives” says Elliott, Director of TCP, “and the longer that they remain off the vocational track, the harder it is for them to get back on. TCP provides a place where people with BPD can begin to overcome these emotional and vocational obstacles, and prepare to return to the workforce, ultimately leading the life that they want to live.”

Dale Terilli, Program Director, is a veteran of the mental health community having spent most of her career in outpatient mental health services at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Westchester, and Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York City. She heads up a team consisting of vocational coaches and runs the day-to-day operations of TCP. According to Terilli, one of the main aims of TCP is to give its clients hope. Hope not only for their future but hope that there can be recovery from BPD. She stresses that a major function of TCP is to bridge the gap between therapy and a fuller life.

The TCP program is the first of its kind in the U.S., according to the co-founders of TCP, as it is a job preparedness program specifically targeted to individuals with BPD. Some skills taught to overcome emotional barriers to working include increasing motivation to change, dealing with the stresses of the job application process, and handling interpersonal conflicts. Many of these skills are similar to those utilized in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a therapy that has been very effective with individuals suffering from BPD.

Vocational skills taught at TCP focus on interviewing, conducting job searches, writing resumes and cover letters, and finding meaningful work. Elements of the “choose-get-keep” approach to employment are used in this program, especially those that emphasize the importance of clients deciding what sort of work they would like to do based on their personal values. TCP also monitors the economy and helps identify many fields for clients that offer the most promising areas of employment in this difficult job market.

Since opening in December 2006 TCP has had over 75 clients. Many clients have moved on to jobs (paid and volunteer), or to school. Clients found work in copy-editing, legal services, marketing, public relations and pet care; others obtained work in settings including a bookstore, bakery, and hotel; while others have entered training programs, colleges, and started coursework for graduate school. In general, clients who have not started working have succeeded in taking some step toward working, such as writing their first resume (or improving their current resume), applying to jobs, and/or obtaining interviews. Furthermore, most clients have reported improvements in their lives such as decreased isolation, increased structure, greater social contacts, and feelings of increased productivity.

Overall, there appears to be a great need for vocational programs for individuals with BPD. Research indicates that more than 50% of these individuals have serious problems with employment. In addition, a recent NIH study found that the lifetime prevalence of BPD in the US population is 5.9%. Thus, there are a great number of individuals with BPD who need help dealing with obstacles related to working. The TCP program is a beginning step towards providing vocational services for individuals suffering from BPD – services which are even more important during difficult financial times.

Clinicians and individuals suffering from BPD interested in learning more about TCP may visit the TCP website at www.theconnectionsplace.org, and contact the center at 212-362-5545 or at contact@theconnectionsplace.org. To view a presentation on TCP by Dale Terilli, Program Director, go to http://web4.streamhoster.com/video4nea/Yale08/TCP-Terilli_files/fdeflt.htm. TCP is operated under the auspices of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (www.neabpd.org).

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