As with most personality disorders, the treatment of choice is psychotherapy. While individual therapy is usually the preferred modality, group therapy can be useful if the client can agree to attend enough sessions. Because of the basic components of this disorder, though, it is often difficult to have the individual attend group therapy early on in the therapeutic process. It is a modality to consider as the patient approaches termination of individual treatment, if additional therapy seems necessary and beneficial to the client.
Individuals who suffer from avoidant personality disorder typically have poor self-esteem and issues surrounding any type of social interactions. They often see only the negative in life and have difficulty in looking at situations and interactions in an objective manner. This can also interfere with their self-report when they present for an initial evaluation, which can lead to important life history and medical information being missed (because the patient deems it and him or herself too unimportant to bother). It is necessary to take a more detailed evaluation than usual, while doing so in a relatively unobtrusive fashion. The clinician should be sensitive to nonverbal cues of the client during this session, to evaluate when information is being withheld. This is essential to making a differential diagnosis with similar-looking but vitally different disorders, such as someone who suffers from schizoid or borderline personality disorder. As with other personality disorders, the individual is not likely to present him or herself to therapy unless something has gone wrong in their life with which their dysfunctional personality style cannot adequately cope.
As with other personality disorders, psychotherapy is usually most effective when it is relatively short-term and oriented toward finding solutions to specific life problems. While self-esteem issues will undoubtedly present themselves in treatment, serious self-enhancement is unlikely. The negative self-valuation is a life-long, pervasive cognition not conducive to regular methods of increasing one’s self-esteem. As with all therapy, a solid therapeutic relationship founded with good rapport and listening to the client is important to the therapist’s effectiveness.
Forming initial rapport is likely to be more difficult with someone who has this disorder, since early termination is often an issue. Once rapport is formed, therapy is usually quite stable, unless issues are brought up which are extremely difficult for the client to deal with. Care should be used by the clinician in exploring new material, therefore.
Termination of therapy is an important issue as well, because a successful ending to therapy and the therapeutic relationship reinforces the possibility of new relationships.
Medications are generally less effective for treating personality disorders (PDs) than psychiatric disorders because of their pervasive nature. Thus, anti-anxiety agents and antidepressants should be prescribed for avoidant PD only when another psychiatric problem co-occurs (e.g., anxiety or depression). Physicians should resist the temptation to overprescribe to someone with this disorder, because they often present with complaints of anxiety in social situations or a feeling of disconnectedness with their feelings. The anxiety in this instance is clearly situationally-related and medication may actually interfere with effective psychotherapeutic treatment.
There are not any self-help support groups or communities that we are aware of that would be conducive to someone suffering from this disorder. Such approaches would likely not be very effective because a person with this disorder may be inclined to avoid attending such sessions, due to increased anxiety and difficulty interacting socially. For more information about symptoms, please see symptoms of avoidant personality disorder.