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Wolfson Institute of Population Health

Jessica Atkinson


PhD Student



Title:  Experiences of therapeutic services for people with histories of complex trauma: a mixed-methods study

I am a third year PhD student (cohort 2020-2021) in the Unit of Psychological Medicine in the Centre of Psychiatry and Mental Health. I am investigating whether individuals who have experienced trauma have a more beneficial treatment journey if they identify with their given diagnosis.

Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is a newly-identified disorder linked to adverse childhood experiences characterised by traumatic memory in which the individual has difficulty organising their emotions after exposure to traumatic interpersonal victimisation. Difficulties presented in CPTSD are also displayed in individuals with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD); a serious mental disorder characterised by a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, impulse control and affect regulation. Patients with BPD report high prevalence rates of negative childhood events such as neglect or childhood sexual abuse.

Similarities between these disorders have made them hard to distinguish. I conducted a systematic review investigating the similarities and differences of BPD and CPTSD in terms of symptom presentation. My main study will focus on how patient’ identify with their problems and whether this influences their treatment. The stigma behind a BPD diagnosis could lead to individuals having a preference over diagnostic terms which may impact their response to treatment.

I am recruiting adults within personality disorder and complex needs services. Participants will be asked to complete a set of questionnaires investigating trauma, symptoms and functioning when they start their treatment and repeat some of these in follow up. Additionally, some participants will be interviewed about their understanding of their diagnosis, their progress, how their identity has changed throughout the therapeutic progress and any stigma they have faced. Clinicians will also be interviewed to gain an understanding on how both diagnoses fit within their values and remit of their service.

Supervisors: Professor Mark Freestone and Dr Tennyson Lee



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