Seeking to understand lived experiences of personal recovery in personality disorder in community and forensic settings – a qualitative methods investigation

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Background: Understandings of personal recovery have emerged as an alternative framework to traditional ideas of clinical progression, or symptom remission, in clinical practice. Most research in this field has focussed on the experience of individuals suffering with psychotic disorders and little research has been conducted to explore the experience of individuals with a personality disorder diagnosis, despite the high prevalence of such difficulties. The nature of the personality disorder diagnosis, together with high prevalence rates in forensic settings, renders the understanding of recovery in these contexts particularly problematic. The current study seeks to map out pertinent themes relating to the recovery process in personality disorder as described by individuals accessing care in either community or forensic settings. Methods: Individual qualitative interviews were utilised to explore the lived experience of those receiving a personality disorder diagnosis and accessing mental health care in either community or forensic settings. A thematic analysis was conducted to identify shared concepts and understanding between participants. Results: Fourty-one individual participant interviews were conducted across forensic and community settings. Recovery was presented by participants as a developing negotiated understanding of the self, together with looked for change and hope in the future. Four specific themes emerged in relation to this process: 1. Understanding early lived experience as informing sense of self 2. Developing emotional control 3. Diagnosis as linking understanding and hope for change 4. The role of mental health services. Conclusions: Through considering personal recovery in personality disorder as a negotiated understanding between the individual, their social networks and professionals this study illustrates the complexity of working through such a process. Clarity of understanding in this area is essential to avoid developing resistance in the recovery process. Understanding of recovery in a variety of diagnostic categories and social settings is essential if a truly recovery orientated mental health service is to be developed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number282
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date1 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Personal recovery
  • Personality disorder
  • Qualitative research


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