The School of Psychology’s Social Psychology Research Group (aka SPRG) met for the third time this academic year and discussed an intriguing project of our colleague Dr David Jones. The discussion was around the topic of “Borderline Personality Disorder” and its more and more frequent presence as both a diagnosis and a cultural phenomenon.
The discussion started from the increasing prevalence of BPD, and featured sophisticated psychosocial accounts from the book in reflecting on this fact. Political and cultural factors were mentioned, yet the lived experience of BPD (indeed, the relief which may be experienced upon diagnosis) and its possible subjective importance were not lost sight of either. Why does a diagnosis become more and more frequent? Do political and cultural explanations for it enhance respect for individuals who suffer? Or do they also have the potential to somehow neglect or mitigate that suffering?
The group also dwelt on the paradox between the apparent ‘wooliness’ of the concept yet its equally apparent ‘concreteness’ in that it seems firmly tied to acts of self-harm. Indeed, it was suggested that the ‘woolier’ a diagnostic concept is, the more it might be in need of an authority to pronounce it. In any case, it was noted that (as is often the case with diagnoses) whilst once upon a time BDP would refer to serious (and sometimes somewhat mysterious) cases of psychological distress, it has by now become a far broader category.
As is usual with these meetings, thoughts were not ordered into distinct conclusions. Yet some interesting and distinctive features of David’s project were duly noted. One of these was a genuine psychosocial approach, whereby research exists on the borderline of the slippery intersection between the psychological and the social. This is an uneasy position and occasionally difficult to hold. It is also somewhat similar to another characteristic of the project: its curiosity about (rather than commitment to) the question whether the diagnosis if real or just a product of social/political/etc power. Whilst many treatises of the problem would either implicitly or explicitly cast a vote on whether psychiatric diagnoses/conditions are real or not, the present project appeared to bring this very contentious issue within the scope of its analysis – rather than something which would determine its analysis.