Research on dialectical behavior therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder

Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2000 Mar;23(1):151-67. doi: 10.1016/s0193-953x(05)70149-0.


Research evidence to date indicates that, although DBT was developed for the treatment of patients with suicidal behavior, it can be adapted to treat BPD patients with comorbid substance-abuse disorder and be extended to other patient populations and the treatment of other disorders. Across studies, DBT seems to reduce severe dysfunctional behaviors that are targeted for intervention (e.g., parasuicide, substance abuse, and binge eating), enhance treatment retention, and reduce psychiatric hospitalization. Evidence suggests that additional research is warranted to examine which components of DBT contribute to outcomes. Although preliminary, skills coaching seems to be a crucial ingredient in producing reductions in parasuicidal behavior, and specific strategies (e.g., validation, balance of change, and acceptance interventions) may play an important role in positive behavioral change. Several investigators are evaluating the efficacy of DBT. For example, Asberg et al at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have begun a pilot study comparing DBT for women who have made multiple suicide attempts to transference focus psychotherapy, a psychodynamic therapy developed by Kernberg. They have planned a randomized clinical trial to compare DBT and transference focus psychotherapy with TAU in the community. van den Bosch has completed a randomized clinical trial for women who met criteria for BPD and substance abuse comparing DBT-S with TAU. Lynch is conducting a randomized clinical trial examining the efficacy of DBT skills training plus medication versus medication only for the treatment of moderate to severe depression in the elderly. Results from these studies should become available over the next several years, providing further empiric evidence by which to evaluate the efficacy of DBT. Additional development of DBT seems warranted to improve its efficacy, and additional investigation is needed to establish its effectiveness in public health settings. Analyses from existing data sets of factors that predict treatment response and elements of the treatment that contribute to outcome are needed. Also, longitudinal follow-up studies to determine suicide rates and maintenance of treatment gains are needed. Because DBT has been adopted in a variety of clinical settings, effectiveness studies are needed. Given the difficulty of conducting treatment research with chronically suicidal individuals, perhaps the largest challenge to further treatment development is recruiting young investigators who are willing to conduct research in this area. Nevertheless, in the 6 years since the treatment manuals were published, DBT seems to be a step toward more effective treatment for severely multidisordered patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / prevention & control
  • Suicide / prevention & control*