Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Borderline Personality Disorder is experienced in individuals in many different ways. Often, people with this disorder will find it more difficult to distinguish between reality from their own misperceptions of the world and their surrounding environment. While this may seem like a type of delusion disorder to some, it is actually related to their emotions overwhelming regular cognitive functioning.

People with this disorder often see others in “black-and-white” terms. Depending upon the circumstances and situation, for instance, a therapist can be seen as being very helpful and caring toward the client. But if some sort of difficulty arises in the therapy, or in the patient’s life, the person might then begin characterizing the therapist as “bad” and not caring about the client at all. Clinicians should always be aware of this “all-or-nothing” lability most often found in individuals with this disorder and be careful not to validate it.

Therapists and doctors should learn to be like a rock when dealing with a person who has this disorder. That is, the doctor should offer his or her stability to contrast the client’s lability of emotion and thinking. Many professionals are turned-off by working with people with this disorder, because it draws on many negative feelings from the clinician. These occur because of the client’s constant demands on a clinician, the constant suicidal gestures, thoughts, and behaviors, and the possibility of self-mutiliating behavior. These are sometimes very difficult items for a therapist to understand and work with.

Psychotherapy is nearly always the treatment of choice for this disorder; medications may be used to help stabilize mood swings. Controversy surrounds overmedicating people with this disorder.

Psychotherapy

Like with all personality disorders, psychotherapy is the treatment of choice in helping people overcome this problem. While medications can usually help some symptoms of the disorder, they cannot help the patient learn new coping skills, emotion regulation, or any of the other important changes in a person’s life.

An initially important aspect of psychotherapy is usually contracting with the person to ensure that they do not commit suicide. Suicidality should be carefully assessed and monitored throughout the entire course of treatment. If suicidal feelings are severe, medication and hospitalization should be seriously considered.

The most successful and effective psychotherapeutic approach to date has been Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Research conducted on this treatment have shown it to be more effective than most other psychotherapeutic and medical approaches to helping a person to better cope with this disorder. It seeks to teach the client how to learn to better take control of their lives, their emotions, and themselves through self-knowledge, emotion regulation, and cognitive restructuring. It is a comprehensive approach that is most often conducted within a group setting. Because the skill set learned is new and complex, it is not an appropriate therapy for those who may have difficulty learning new concepts.

Like all personality disorders, borderline personality disorder is intrinsically difficult to treat. Personality disorders, by definition, are long-standing ways of coping with the world, social and personal relationships, handling stress and emotions, etc. that often do not work, especially when a person is under increased stress or performance demands in their lives. Treatment, therefore, is also likely to be somewhat lengthy in duration, typically lasting at least a year for most.

Other psychological treatments which have been used, to lesser effectiveness, to treat this disorder include those which focus on social learning theory and conflict resolution. These types of solution-focused therapies, though, often neglect the core problem of people who suffer from this disorder — difficulty in expressing appropriate emotions (and emotional attachments) to significant people in their lives due to faulty cognitions.

Providing a structured therapeutic setting is important no matter which therapy type is undertaken. Because people with this disorder often try and “test the limits” of the therapist or professional when in treatment, proper and well-defined boundaries of your relationship with the client need to be carefully explained at the onset of therapy. Clinicians need to be especially aware of their own feelings toward the patient, when the client may display behavior which is deemed “inappropriate.” Individuals with borderline personality disorder are often unfairly discriminated against within the broad range of mental health professionals because they are seen as “trouble-makers.” While they may indeed need more care than many other patients, their behavior is caused by their disorder. Phillip W. Long, M.D. also notes that:

“The therapeutic alliance should form within the patient’s real experiences with the therapist and with the treatment. The therapist must be able to tolerate repeated episodes of primitive rage, distrust, and fear. Uncovering is to be avoided in favor of bolstering of ego defenses, in order to eventually allow the patient to be less anxious about potential fragmentation and loss. The goals of therapy should be in terms of life gains toward independent functioning, and not complete restructuring of the personality.”

Hospitalization

Hospitalization is often a concern with people who suffer from borderline personality disorder because they so often visit hospital emergency rooms and are sometimes seen on inpatient units because of severe depression.

People with this disorder often present in crisis at their local community mental health center, to their therapist, or at the hospital emergency room. While an emergency room is an immediate source of crisis intervention for the patient, it is a costly treatment and regular visits to the E.R. should be discouraged. Instead, patients should be encouraged to find additional social support within their community (including self-help support groups), contact a crisis hotline, or contact their therapist or treating physician directly. Emergency room personnel should be careful not to treat the person with borderline personality disorder in blind conjunction with another set of therapists or doctors who are treating the patient for the same problem at another facility. Every attempt should be made to contact the client’s attending physician or primary therapist as soon as possible, even before the administration of medication which may be contraindicated by the primary treatment provider. Crisis management of the immediate problem is usually the key component to effective treatment of this disorder when it presents in a hospital emergency room, with discharge to the patient’s usual care provider.

Inpatient treatment often takes the form of medication in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions in groups or individually. This is an appropriate treatment option if the person is experiencing extreme difficulties in living and daily functioning. It is, however, relatively rare to be hospitalized in the U.S. for this disorder. Long-term care of the person suffering from borderline personality disorder within a hospital setting is nearly never appropriate. The typical inpatient stay for someone with borderline personality disorder in the U.S. is about 3 to 4 weeks, depending upon the person’s insurance. Since this treatment is so expensive, it is getting more difficult to obtain. Results of such treatment are also mixed. While it is an excellent way of helping stabilize the client, it is usually too short a time to attain significant changes within the individual’s personality makeup.

Good inpatient care facilities for this disorder should be highly structured environments which seek to expand the individual’s independence. Phillip W. Long, M.D., adds that the goals of such a treatment modality, “include decreasing acting out, clearly identifying and working with inappropriate behaviors and feelings, accepting with the patient the magnitude of the therapeutic task, fostering more effective interpersonal relationships, and working with both real and transference relationships within the hospital.”

Partial hospitalization or a day treatment program is often all that’s needed for people who suffer from borderline personality disorder. This allows the individual to gain support and structure from a safe environment for a short time, or during the day, and returning home in the evening. In times of increased stress or difficulty coping with specific situations, this type of treatment is more appropriate and more healthy for most people than full inpatient hospitalization.

Medications

Phillip W. Long, M.D. has noted:

“During brief reactive psychoses, low doses of antipsychotic drugs may be useful, but they are usually not essential adjuncts to the treatment regimen, since such episodes are most often self-limiting and of short duration.

It is, however, clear that low doses of high potency neuroleptics (e.g., haloperidol) may be helpful for disorganized thinking and some psychotic symptoms. Depression in some cases is amenable to neuroleptics. Neuroleptics are particularly recommended for the psychotic symptoms mentioned above, and for patients who show anger which must be controlled. Dosages should generally be low and the medication should never be given without adequate psychosocial intervention.”

Antidepressant and anti-anxiety agents may be appropriate during particular times in the patient’s treatment, as appropriate. For example, if a client presents with severe suicidal ideation and intent, the clinician may want to seriously consider the prescription of an appropriate antidepressant medication to help combat the ideation. Medication of this type should be avoided for long-term use, though, since most anxiety and depression is directly related to short-term, situational factors that will quickly come and go in the individual’s life.

Self-Help

Self-help methods for the treatment of this disorder are often overlooked by the medical profession because very few professionals are involved in them. Encouraging the individual with borderline personality disorder to gain additional social support, however, is an important aspect of treatment. Many support groups exist within communities throughout the world which are devoted to helping individuals with this disorder share their commons experiences and feelings.

Patients can be encouraged to try out new coping skills and emotion regulation with people they meet within support groups. They can be an important part of expanding the individual’s skill set and develop new, healthier social relationships.

 

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2007). Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/borderline-personality-disorder-treatment/0001065
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.