Wayne State University

Wayne State researcher receives grant to expand program for treating Borderline Personality Disorder

The Wayne State University program that provides scientifically-proven treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder recently received a $48,000 award from the Flinn Foundation to expand several services and provide support to its student clinicians.

Jeffrey Kuentzel, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and resident of Dearborn, Mich., received the award for the Wayne State University Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Program, a service he directs at the WSU Psychology Clinic that provides treatment to people with severe problems with regulation of emotions and behavior as seen in Borderline Personality Disorder.

The grant will enable the program, which has been at maximum capacity for the last year and has a growing waiting list, to triple its client capacity. It will also provide compensation to several part-time graduate students, provide formal training for 10 students and fund the DBT Family group, a support/education group for loved ones of persons with the disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a longstanding and pervasive pattern of serious social and behavioral difficulties associated with severe emotion dysregulation. Its prevalence has been estimated at approximately 1 to 2 percent of the population in the United States. Hallmarks of the disorder include recurring crises, psychiatric hospitalizations, self-harm, suicidal behaviors, addictions, impulsivity and episodes of depression and anxiety.

Considered by experts to be one of the few empirically validated treatments for the disorder, DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of mindful awareness, distress tolerance and acceptance. DBT has been demonstrated in several controlled trials over the past 15 years to significantly reduce suicidal behaviors, increase therapy attendance and decrease hospitalizations.

The WSU DBT program does not allow low income to be a barrier to clients in need of treatment. However, this had prevented the program’s student clinicians from receiving compensation. “Our grad students take on the bulk of the program’s work, but until recently were working on a volunteer basis,” Kuentzel said. “With their busy class schedules, research and other jobs, their time spent with this program speaks very highly of their dedication to being successful future clinicians. The Flinn Foundation grant will allow us to support such valuable work.”

With continued support, Kuentzel, along with collaborators Douglas Barnett, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and director of the WSU Psychology Clinic, Diane Chugani, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and radiology and Eric Pihlgren, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in Birmingham, Mich., hope to continue providing high quality DBT services to an expanded number of clients regardless of income and provide expert training to future mental health professionals. In addition, they plan to implement rigorous assessment of clients’ progress over the course of treatment. After six months of treatment, Kuentzel expects more than half of the program’s clients will experience reductions in the severity of Borderline Personality Disorder, as determined by psychological testing and questionnaires. After 12 months, he expects more than half of clients will fall in the normal range on the same assessments.

“By developing sustainable financial support for the Wayne State DBT program, we will be able to continue our mission to provide future mental health care professionals with superior training for treating this prevalent disorder and ensure that those who cannot afford costly mental health treatments are not denied the opportunity to create what DBT refers to as ‘a life worth living’,” Kuentzel said.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting, ranking in the top 50 in R & D expenditures of all public universities by the National Science Foundation. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world.

For more information, contact Amy Oprean at (313) 577-1494 or oprean@wayne.edu.