Objective: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common psychiatric disorder with a prevalence of 1%-2% in the general population. BPD also has the potential to cause significant distress in the lives of patients with BPD and their families. The diagnosis of BPD, however, is often withheld from patients. The purpose of this article is to explore the history of diagnostic disclosure in medicine and psychiatry and then discuss reasons why clinicians may or may not disclose the diagnosis of BPD.
Methods: The authors review medical literature about diagnostic disclosure and other issues that may affect the decision to disclose a diagnosis of BPD.
Results: The authors discuss the historical precedents for diagnostic disclosure and reasons a clinician may not disclose the diagnosis of BPD to a patient: questions regarding the validity of BPD as a diagnosis, worries about the stigma of the diagnosis being harmful to the patient, and transference/countertransference issues common in the treatment of patients with BPD. The authors cite factors promoting disclosure, such as the ideal of patient autonomy, possibilities for psychoeducation and collaboration with the patient toward more specific and effective therapies, and the increasing availability of diagnostic information available to patients from sources other than their clinicians.
Conclusions: There are compelling reasons to make the diagnosis the subject of open examination and discussion between clinician and patient, and reasons to believe that disclosure would serve to advance the patient in his or her recovery.