Isabella Nadel ’24

McLean Hospital, Gunderson Personality Disorders Institute, Belmont, MA

This summer, I worked as a research assistant at McLean Hospital at the Gunderson Personality Disorders Institute (GPDI) under the supervision of Dr. Lois Choi-Kain. GPDI specializes in research about borderline personality disorder, which has a history of being highly stigmatized within the mental health community due to myths about the difficulty of treating the disorder. Even now, BPD treatments such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) or Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT) remain vastly inaccessible to the majority of those affected by the disorder due to the cost of treatment and lack of providers.

To address these issues, the GPDI team is working to teach clinicians a generalist treatment—Good Psychiatric Management (GPM)—that is “good enough” for the majority of patients with BPD that seek treatment. GPM centers around a model of BPD that places interpersonal hypersensitivity at the center of the disorder—in other words, GPM believes that BPD patients exhibit disproportionate emotional reactions to interpersonal events. GPM was developed by Dr. John Gunderson, the namesake of the Institute, as a solution to the inequity surrounding access to BPD treatment. Since then, Dr. Gunderson and Dr. Choi-Kain have taught GPM to hundreds of clinicians in more than five countries.

Over my nine weeks at GPDI, I worked primarily on one project and assisted with several others. I collaborated with a psychiatrist based in São Paolo to write an article detailing modifications to GPM for patients with BPD during the perinatal period (which includes pregnancy and 12 months postpartum). This population is especially vulnerable to the physical and emotional changes that accompany the perinatal period, so it is vital to have a treatment plan designed to address these patients’ needs. The project taught me the necessity of collaboration in research, both in terms of collaboration between authors and collaborative dialogues between publications. Although my internship at McLean has officially ended, I will continue to work on finalizing this project, and my name will be included as an author when the paper is submitted for publication. In addition, I am assisting with a systematic review of comorbid BPD and substance-use disorder. My role in the project at this stage consists of screening almost 4,000 abstracts using inclusion/exclusion criteria that have been created to determine what publications will be included. I have also helped with other miscellaneous tasks for the GPDI, including editing and re-formatting multiple publications before their final submissions, making slides for teaching workshops, and finding videos to be used in a project studying the effects of psychoeducation on BPD symptoms. I also completed the online Good Psychiatric Management training course through Harvard Medical School.

My time at McLean has given me clarity surrounding my plans following graduation by furthering my desire to apply to Ph.D. programs in the field of clinical psychology. Gaining exposure to what the research process looks like in a fast-paced setting such as McLean has been invaluable. I extend my sincerest thanks to the Kraft Family and to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for the opportunity.