24 August 2022

University of Canberra students focus on borderline personality disorder as part of WOKE program

| Katrina Condie
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Young person with head in hands

The new University of Canberra WOKE program is empowering young people with early symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Photo: Region Media.

More than 60 young people with early symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) have increased their ability to regulate their moods, achieve goals and improve relationships as part of a University of Canberra (UC) program.

Participants in the new WOKE program have significantly reduced their symptoms, distress, suicidal ideation and dysfunctional coping approaches.

Sixty-nine young Canberrans, aged 15 to 21 years, took part in the free 14-week program, based on dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) for adolescents, including individual therapy with an intern psychologist and a skills training group.

The program was aimed at empowering young people by teaching them the skills to manage difficult and distressing emotions, communicate needs in relationships and to change behaviours that are getting in the way of the life they want.

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Each participant was allocated their own DBT therapist for weekly individual sessions to help them understand and solve their individual challenges.

WOKE program lead, Dr Dean Buckmaster said the program used an innovative, sustainable and cost-effective workforce model with 16 UC Master of Clinical Psychology students delivering the program as part of their second-year practicum placements, under clinician supervision.

“The students highly commended the program, training and clinical supervision and recommended that the WOKE Program become a permanent placement within the UC Master of Clinical Psychology course,” Dr Buckmaster said.

“They will now enter the workforce with much-needed skills to confidently work with young people with borderline symptoms, including self-harm and suicidal ideation.”

Unlike many other programs, parents were involved in the WOKE program.

“We welcomed 55 parents or family members to the program who were invited to join their young person at the skills training group and also offered separate parent therapy sessions,” Dr Buckmaster said.

“Parents reported that they felt valued and included in their young person’s treatment, which is often not the case in other programs.

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“Parents also learnt new ways to communicate with and support their young person and some parents reported the program was ‘life changing’.”

Capital Health Network (CHN) CEO, Megan Cahill said the free program addressed a major need and service gap in the ACT mental health system.

“As ACT’s primary health network (PHN) we recognised the lack of early intervention programs for young people with early symptoms of BPD in the ACT region,” she said.

“So, we commissioned the University of Canberra to develop and run a suitable program to address this need.”

Young people have expressed a strong desire to see the WOKE program as a permanent mental health service in the ACT, with one participant saying, “Please get more funding as I really hope that it blows up and becomes a very well-funded program because it will change a lot of people’s lives”.

CHN commissioned UC to develop and deliver the WOKE program, supported by $800,000 funding over four years until June 2023 from the ACT PHN through the Australian Government’s PHN Program.

If you or someone you know needs help, Lifeline’s 24/7 crisis support service can be reached on 13 11 14.

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