Background: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is challenging for family members who are often required to fulfil multiple roles such as those of advocate, caregiver, coach and guardian. To date, two uncontrolled studies by the treatment developers suggest that Family Connections (FC) is an effective programme to support, educate and teach skills to family members of individuals with BPD. However, such studies have been limited by lack of comparison to other treatment approaches. This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of FC with an optimised treatment-as-usual (OTAU) programme for family members of individuals with BPD. A secondary aim was to introduce a long term follow-up to investigate if positive gains from the intervention would be maintained following programme completion.
Methods: This study was a non-randomised controlled study, with assessment of outcomes at baseline (pre-intervention) and end of programme (post-intervention) for both FC and OTAU groups, and at follow-up (3 months post-intervention; 12 or 19 months post-intervention) for the FC group. Eighty family members participated in the FC (n = 51) and the OTAU (n = 29) programmes. Outcome measures included burden, grief, depression and mastery. Linear mixed-effects models were used to assess baseline differences in the outcome measures by gender, age group and type of relationship to the individual with BPD. Linear mixed-effects models were also used to estimate the treatment effect (FC versus OTAU) utilising all available data from baseline and end of programme.
Results: The FC group showed changes indicating significant improvement with respect to all four outcome measures (p < 0.001). The OTAU group showed changes in the same direction as the intervention group but none of the changes were statistically significant. The intervention effect was statistically significant for total burden (including both subscales; p = .02 for subjective burden and p = .048 for objective burden) and grief (p = 0.013). Improvements were maintained at follow-up for FC participants.
Conclusions: The findings of the current study indicate that FC results in statistically significant improvements on key measures while OTAU does not yield comparable changes. Lack of significant change on all measures for OTAU suggests that a three session psycho-education programme is of limited benefit. Further research is warranted on programme components and long-term supports for family members.