By building in a pause between the intense emotion and destructive reaction, as well as by diverting attention away from the emotion and onto the alternative sensation experienced (i.e., cold sensation on hand), by the time the ice cube melts, the patient may be in a better position now that the intensity of the emotion has reduced somewhat, to make a more rational behavioral decision. Additionally, the patient is able to have evidence that strong emotions do not stay in their heightened peak state forever; in fact, all emotions rise and pass naturally, and may not require any behavior besides waiting for their elimination.
Patients similarly learn to ride the waves of their distress in meditation and yoga using their breath as a navigation tool. Overall, the goal of the therapist is to establish realistic expectations in the patient (i.e., there is no “cure” for having intense negative emotions), to promote emotional acceptance and non-reactivity, and to instill skills to help the patient establish healthy ways of coping.
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 that 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.
Psychodynamic and cognitive therapies also have some research support in the treatment for this condition. According to Reeves-Dudley (2017), a 2003 meta-analysis “is the most recent, and reported both psychodynamic and cognitive therapies as being effective long term.”
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.
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.
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 may also be prescribed to help with specific troubling and debilitating symptoms of this condition. Evidence for the use of psychiatric medications to treat BPD varies, but tends to be less robust than the evidence supporting the use of psychotherapy. As noted by Leichsenring et al. (2011), “Beneficial effects on depression, aggression, and other symptoms were reported in some RCTS, but not in others.” In consultation with a psychiatrist or physician, a person with BPD should consider medications if needed for specific symptom relief.
Antidepressant and anti-anxiety agents may be appropriate during particular times in the patient’s treatment. For example, if a client presents with severe suicidal thoughts and intent, a psychiatrist may consider the prescription of an appropriate antidepressant medication to help combat the suicidal thoughts.
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.
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Leichsenring, F., Leibing, E., Kruse, J., New, A.S., & Lewek, F. (2011). Borderline personality disorder. Lancet, 377, 74–84.
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Linehan, M.M., Comtois, K.A., Murray, A.M., Brown, M.Z., Gallop, R.J., et al. (2006). Two-Year randomized controlled trial and follow-up of Dialectical Behavior Therapy vs. therapy by experts for suicidal behaviors and Borderline Personality Disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63, 757-766.
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Verheul, R., van den Bosch, L.M.C., Koeter, M.W.J., de Ridder, M.A.J., Stijnen, T., van den Brink, W. (2003). A 12-month randomized clinical trial of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for women with borderline personality disorder in the Netherlands. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 135-140.