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Psychological therapies for borderline personality disorder

Stoffers JM, Völlm BA, Rücker G, Timmer A, Huband N, Lieb K
Published Online: 
28 February 2013

People with borderline personality disorder often have difficulties controlling their emotions and impulses, and find it hard to keep relationships. They can experience feelings of emptiness, suffer quick changes in mood and they may harm themselves. Problems coping with abandonment and a rapidly changing view of other people can form part of their difficulties. All of these things make it hard for them to engage with any treatment they may be offered. Those who are able to engage often find it hard to stick with the treatment and leave before the end. Certain types of psychological treatment ('talking therapies') have been developed in recent years to help people with this disorder. This review summarises what is currently known about the effects of these treatments. It updates a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006.

We found 28 studies that had involved a total of 1804 people with borderline personality disorder. These studies examined various psychological treatments. Some of these are called 'comprehensive' treatments because the person talks one-to-one with a professional for at least part of the time. Other treatments are called 'non-comprehensive' because they do not involve this one-to-one work.

A number of studies have been carried out on one particular type of comprehensive treatment, called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. For this treatment, there were sufficient studies for us to pool the results and draw conclusions. The results indicate Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is helpful for people with borderline personality disorder. Effects included a decrease in inappropriate anger, a reduction in self-harm and an improvement in general functioning.

There were generally too few studies to allow firm conclusions to be drawn about the value of all the other kinds of psychotherapeutic interventions evaluated. However, single studies show encouraging findings for each treatment that was investigated, both 'comprehensive' and 'non-comprehensive' types. More research is needed.