Childhood Experiences and Psychological Distress in Adulthood

  • Carly Porter

Student thesis: Doctor of Clinical Psychology


A broad range of adverse experiences during childhood have been associated with psychological distress and mental health difficulties in adulthood. This thesis aims to further knowledge in this area by exploring the role of different types of childhood experiences in the development of psychiatric disorders characterised by unstable affect in adulthood. Paper 1 focuses on the role of a range of adverse childhood experiences as risk factors for the development of borderline personality disorder (BPD). The paper presents a systematic review and meta-analysis of the available literature exploring the prevalence of childhood adversity in individuals diagnosed with BPD compared to non-clinical and clinical control groups. Findings revealed that individuals diagnosed with BPD are significantly more likely to report experiences of childhood adversity compared to both non-clinical groups and individuals with other psychiatric diagnoses. Limitations of the available literature and clinical implications of these findings are discussed. Paper 2 considers the potential role of early responses to emotion from primary caregivers in the development of conflicting appraisals that drive shifts in affect characteristic of Bipolar Disorder. The paper presents the development of a new measure to explore the consistency of responses to emotion from primary caregivers during childhood. This was achieved through the use of cognitive interviews to develop and refine an initial pool of items, followed by the administration of the new measure using an online sample of 70 individuals with mood disorders. This measure demonstrated good internal consistency and concurrent validity. Implications and avenues for further development are discussed. Paper 3 is not intended for publication and provides a critical appraisal of the process of undertaking the body of work contained in this thesis. In this paper the strengths and limitations of this body of work are considered with the aim of reflecting on the research process as a whole to inform future research and clinical practice.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorWarren Mansell (Supervisor), Filippo Varese (Supervisor) & Jasper Palmier-Claus (Supervisor)


  • BPD
  • Childhood Adversity
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Affect Instability

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