How Effective is Psychotherapy for Personality Disorders?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett
Psychotherapy can help a patient with a personality disorder understand their disorder.
Psychotherapy can help a patient with a personality disorder understand their disorder.

Psychotherapy can be very effective for personality disorders, but the degree of success achieved varies based on the patient, the type of disorder, and the severity of dysfunction experienced. In cases of mild problems, psychotherapy for personality disorders can often be fully effective, rendering the dysfunction unproblematic in daily life, although maintenance with additional psychotherapy may be required. In cases of severe mental illness, such as might occur in people who are severely bipolar, psychotherapy for personality disorders alone may not be entirely effective. For most people, therapy is the first step to achieving mental health, although it may not completely resolve the problem.

There are several variables that affect how successful psychotherapy is for a given patient.
There are several variables that affect how successful psychotherapy is for a given patient.

Many people first seek treatment for an undiagnosed mental illness through psychotherapy. After several sessions, the therapist may diagnose a personality disorder and recommend treatment. Often, that treatment not only will include additional therapy, but also helpful medications. Psychotherapy for personality disorders is usually one case in which therapy is recommended in addition to the pharmacology treatment.

Extreme personality disorders usually are not treatable with psychotherapy alone. Many people who experience severe chemical imbalances require medication in order to achieve some degree of control over a mental illness. Psychotherapy for personality disorders in these cases is still very effective and in fact is necessary in order to monitor the patient's reaction to the medication. In combination with medication, therapy can guide a patient to a sense of clarity that is necessary for resolving, or at least relieving severe symptoms, of such a disorder.

People with undiagnosed personality disorders may achieve successful treatment through therapy without ever formalizing the problem. For instance, symptoms such as narcissism, excessive manipulation, or even unwarranted optimism can be considered facets of personality disorders, but they can also be treated individually through psychotherapy. Many people seek professional help when life becomes too unpleasant or complex to deal with, and these people often have personality disorders to some degree as well. Psychotherapy for personality disorders in these mild cases can be particularly effective when attempting to improve quality of life and may not even require a clinical diagnosis.

A personality disorder at its most basic is a situation in which a person's personality is disruptive to the social order or makes life unbearable for the patient. Psychotherapy that focuses on improving healthy social relations overall can often ease at least some of the symptoms. Unfortunately, when therapy is entirely oriented inward and focused on resolving internal conflict, progress can be hindered. Effective psychotherapy for personality disorders typically requires consideration of the entire social situation as well as the patient's personal well being.

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    • Psychotherapy can help a patient with a personality disorder understand their disorder.
      Psychotherapy can help a patient with a personality disorder understand their disorder.
    • There are several variables that affect how successful psychotherapy is for a given patient.
      There are several variables that affect how successful psychotherapy is for a given patient.