National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from
(800) 950-NAMI;

Book Review:Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder: A Family Guide for Healing and Change by Valerie Porr, M.A.

By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator

Oxford University Press (2010), $24.95

Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder provides a thorough and informative guide for understanding borderline personality disorder (BPD). While illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often get discussed when referring to mental health diseases, borderline personality disorder is not examined as often.

Valerie Porr’s book touches on some of the latest research in the field but still provides an easy-to-read guide full of helpful information for families searching for answers about BPD. Porr, a mental health educator and advocate and trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, uses personal experience and knowledge to provide direct anecdotal support for the cutting-edge scientific findings.

Offering families and loved ones supportive guidance that both acknowledges the difficulties they face and shows how they can be overcome, Porr teaches empirically-supported and effective coping behaviors and interpersonal skills, such as new ways of talking about emotions, how to be aware of nonverbal communication and validating difficult experiences. Dialectical Behavior Therapy, along with Mentalization-based Therapy, are two evidence-based treatments that provide the basis for Porr’s skills she recommends.

Porr explains that progress for individuals living with BPD is not an “ah ha! moment,” but rather a slow, ongoing process. Realizing that BPD is not something that can be fixed overnight might be difficult for some individuals. However, solace should be found in the fact that although slow, progress will come with proper treatment. Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder is a powerful tool for those who seek to achieve a better understanding of what it means to experience BPD.

Book Review:Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, a Psychiatrist’s Own Story by Loren A. Olson, M.D.

By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator

inGroup Press (2011), $15.95

As a child growing up in rural Nebraska, being different—in any way—in a town where “everyone seemed to have the same values” was difficult for Loren Olson. Doing anything to fit in, Olson describes the constant struggle of hiding himself from his classmates, even joining in with them as they teased and ridiculed a fellow classmate for being effeminate, hoping that if he joined they wouldn’t recognize the similarities he had with his classmate.

In his book, Finally Out, Olson describes the difficult journey faced my millions of teens and adults living in towns all across the country—the fear of being called a “sissy,” a “fairy” or a “queer,” the fear of being unsure of who you are, the fear of being outcast for being who you are.

Olson writes that he always knew he was vaguely different from the other boys growing up, but thought of himself as heterosexual, just “with a little quirk.” Being gay was simply not an option for him. His lack of information about what it meant to homosexual and the lack of acceptance for gay men prevented Olson from fully coming to terms with himself until age 40, after he had an affair with a married man, and a marriage of his own for 18 years. In 2009 he and his long-time partner, married, six months after the state of Iowa overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage.

Although the psychological community—which ceased classifying homosexuality as a type of a mental illness in 1974—and parts of society now view homosexuality not as a illness or decision, but simply a part of life, there are still many areas across the country that do not.

Going beyond simply retelling the coming out story of a middle-aged, married man, Olson’s thoughtful and provoking memoir details the difficulty in not only gaining acceptance in society, but learning to accept one’s self.

Loren A. Olson is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from NAMI.

Book Review: Mind on the Run: A Bipolar Chronicle by Dottie Pacharis

By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator

Idyll Arbor (2011), $18

Dottie Pacharis’ book Mind on the Run details the tragic tale that can sometimes follow an individual diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Scott Baker’s adolescence was much like his fellow classmates in his northern Virginia high school. He held summer jobs to help pay for his hobby, he was entrepreneurial, he graduated high school—and was voted by his high school class “most likely to succeed”—and went on to graduate from college with academic honors.

After graduating and a few years working for accounting firm in Washington, D.C., Scott’s behavior begins to dramatically change. Pacharis’ book aptly chronicles the turbulent life many living with bipolar disorder face. A life once set out on a straight path is upturned when the symptoms of mental illness begin to reveal themselves. Five months after his marriage, Scott’s demeanor changed without warning. He became out-of-control and manic. His young wife stayed with him for five months before she finally left, unable to accept a husband with mental illness. Losing his marriage, his job and ultimately his life, Scott battled with the emotional and psychological journey faced by others with bipolar disorder.

Scott and his family’s story mirrors one experienced by others living with mental illness. While the mental health system protected Scott’s civil right to refuse treatment, it prohibited his family from helping him. This powerful account can perhaps show us ways we can improve the system and help those living with mental illness, while still respecting their rights and wishes. Anyone who has ever had a loved one experience bipolar will find this read hits close to home with its vivid depiction of the struggle trying to help someone you love.