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This page was reviewed by Charlotte Parkin (BA, MSc, FDAP), Psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Harley Street, in June 2022.

What is Personality Disorder Treatment? 

Personality disorder treatment can vary depending on what type of personality disorder is being treated. However, the goal of each treatment offered is to help manage a personality disorder and minimise the symptoms as much as possible.  

Treatment for personality disorders can be made up of lots of smaller treatments that can tackle different symptoms. 

What is a Personality Disorder?

A personality disorder relates to difficulties with the way you think, feel and behave, and your beliefs and actions may differ from other people around you. This can include extremes of emotions and behaviours, including being more or less impulsive, angry, or obsessive than others. You may feel misunderstood by other people and as though the world disapproves of you. You might have very little trust in other people's ability to understand you, and have a sense of frustration when it comes to communicating with others. Sometimes this may lead to anti-social behaviour in an attempt to get across how you feel and what you need from others.

However, being diagnosed with a personality disorder doesn't mean that there is something 'wrong' with who you are, and it's not your fault. Part of the personality disorder treatment process will help you accept yourself before challenging your current thoughts and feelings, helping you form a more positive and helpful mind-set which doesn't adversely impact your functioning in everyday life.

What Causes Personality Differences? 

While it isn’t currently clear what causes a personality disorder to develop, it's thought that a combination of genetics and environmental factors during your childhood can play a role in the likelihood of being diagnosed with a type of personality disorder. Childhood trauma is an important factor for many people. 

These factors can also have an impact on whether someone with a personality disorder may also have a co-occurring condition.  

The unique nature of all our personalities and the complexity involved in forming what makes us who we are is the reason why there are so many different types of personality disorder. Because personality is mostly formed during childhood, including the way you observe the world around you and relate to others, the following experiences as a young person may trigger a personality disorder: 

  • A chaotic family life such as living with family members who struggle with substance abuse or mental health problems 
  • A poor support network either from your caregiver, peers, or wider community, particularly when you are of school age 
  • Losing a parent or experiencing a traumatic event such as a car accident 
  • Verbal, physical or sexual abuse 

These circumstances don't always lead to the development of a personality disorder, as the way you react and are supported during these difficult periods of your life which determines how much it affects your mental health and wellbeing as an adult. However, the causes of your personality disorder will be discussed during personality disorder treatment so that your therapists and doctors can understand your disorder better, and provide you with the appropriate treatment and care.

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Diagnosing a Personality Disorder 

While being diagnosed with a personality disorder remains controversial, due to the personal nature of the mental health condition, it can help to think of the diagnosis as a tool which helps mental health professionals decide what will be the most effective method of treatment and support to help manage the disorder.

Personality disorders can be treated, helping people to manage their symptoms and limit the impact it has on their lives. For example, with the right treatment, NICE state that over 50% of people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder no longer meet the criteria 5–10 years after diagnosis.

Knowing you have a personality disorder isn't a life sentence. Receiving a diagnosis can empower you with a reason to get help and learn self-compassion. It's not an excuse for your behaviour, but can act as motivation to help you make better choices and allow yourself the relationships you deserve.

How are Personality Disorders Treated? 

Treatment for personality disorders aims to help you develop a more realistic sense of how you experience yourself in relation to others, and thus give you a more secure sense of who you are. You will learn how your thinking ad reactions may cause you difficulties, which can be overcome though learning new ways to communicate and reducing feelings of shame.

Treatment can vary depending on the  type of personality disorder you may have. There are currently 10 recognised personality disorders, as well as some sub categories. While certain treatments will be more effective on some personality disorders more than others, fundamental differences in beliefs and ways of managing life situations in comparison to people without a personality disorder remains. 

To make the types easier to understand, they are grouped into different clusters. Depending on the cluster and the symptoms you may be experiencing, personality disorder treatment will be tailored to your needs aims to reduce the impact of the condition on your life. 

types of personality disorder

Personality Disorder Treatment Options 

Therapeutic communities 

Residential based treatment for personality disorder involves 24-hour care and support inclusive of psychotherapy sessions, rehabilitative workshops and creative classes, with your physical wellbeing also taken care of with things like in the provision of yoga and meditation activities. 

The highly structured nature of this programme ensures that you learn the techniques and coping strategies required to manage symptoms of personality disorder in your daily life. 

Inpatient treatment and mentalisation-based therapy 

This is where psychotherapy treatments such as mentalisation-based therapy (MBT) can be used. This involves a detailed examination of your own thoughts and beliefs, and whether these are realistic or helpful. 

This treatment can be effective in personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), where impulsive behaviours such as self-harming can happen without thinking through what is making you so upset. The aim of this treatment, usually provided in a hospital setting, is to improve your ability to assess your thoughts about yourself and others and what impact they could ultimately have. 

Outpatient and day care 

If your personality disorder isn’t diagnosed as severe, or if you have already completed more intensive treatment options, then outpatient and day care mental health treatment provides a flexible and supportive environment where you can take part in therapy sessions with your therapist or consultant. Outpatient and day care treatment enables continued support as part of a stepping down of treatment before you fully return to your daily routine.        

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) 

Talking therapies such as DBT represents a core part of treatment for personality disorders at Priory, particularly during borderline personality disorder treatment. Our DBT programme offers comprehensive treatment involving both one-to-one and group therapy sessions where emotional issues associated with personality disorders can be addressed. This will help you to tackle your symptoms and any relational discomfort in a safe space.

The aim of DBT is to help you learn to control distressing and extreme emotions by accepting that how you feel is real and perfectly acceptable, before challenging these thoughts and emotions with alternative and more positive ways of thinking. DBT will also teach you the skills to manage your anger and emotions and to avoid self-harm. 

This method can help free you of looking at the world and your relationships within it in a way that can be rigid and self-destructive, instead teaching you other ways of looking at things in a more positive and helpful way. it can empower you with self-awareness and self-compassion, and teach you to make healthy choices based on your own instincts as opposed to the unhealthy behaviour you have learned.

Medication for personality disorders                

While no medication is currently used specifically to treat personality disorders, certain mood stabilisers or anti-psychotic medications may be helpful during treatment if you have a co-existing mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. 

Co-occurring Conditions and Different Types of Personality Disorders 

Having a personality disorder does not mean that you do not have another psychiatric diagnosis. Those with personality disorders are predisposed at higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance misuse. Treating personality disorders makes managing these other disorders much easier. 

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