Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 88 Issue 1 (March 2015), Pages 1-126

Open access support groups for people experiencing personality disorders: Do group members' experiences reflect the theoretical foundations of the SUNproject? (pages 87-104)


The SUN Project is an innovative, open access support group, based in the community, for people experiencing personality disorders, developed in response to UK Department of Health policy advocating improvements in personality disorders services. The aim of this article is to critically explore where and how the theoretically informed model underpinning the SUN Project is reflected in the view and experiences of people attending the project.


This article reports an in‐depth, qualitative interview‐based study employing a critical realist approach.


As part of a larger study about self‐care and mental health, in‐depth qualitative interviews were held with 38 people new to the SUN Project, and again 9 months later. Data were extracted that were relevant to core components of the project model and were subjected to thematic analysis. The critical realist approach was used to move back and forth between empirical data and theory underpinning the SUN project, providing critical insight into the model.


Participant accounts were broadly concordant with core components of the SUN Project's underlying model: Open access and self‐referral; group therapeutic processes; community‐based support; service users as staff. There were some tensions between interviewee accounts and theoretical aspects of the model, notably around the challenges that group processes presented for some individuals.


The model underlying the SUN Project is useful in informing good practice in therapeutic, community‐based peer support groups for people experiencing personality disorders. Careful consideration should be given to a limited multi‐modal approach, providing focused one‐to‐one support for vulnerable individuals who find it hard to engage in group processes.

Practitioner points

  • Facilitated peer support groups based in the community may act as a powerful therapeutic resource for people experiencing personality disorders.
  • Promoting open access and self‐referral to support groups may increase feelings of empowerment and engagement for people experiencing personality disorders.
  • Some individuals experiencing personality disorders who could potentially benefit from therapeutic groups may need focused one‐to‐one support to do so.

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