Psychological therapies for people with borderline personality disorder

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Aug 15;2012(8):CD005652. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005652.pub2.


Background: Psychotherapy is regarded as the first-line treatment for people with borderline personality disorder. In recent years, several disorder-specific interventions have been developed. This is an update of a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006.

Objectives: To assess the effects of psychological interventions for borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Search methods: We searched the following databases: CENTRAL 2010(3), MEDLINE (1950 to October 2010), EMBASE (1980 to 2010, week 39), ASSIA (1987 to November 2010), BIOSIS (1985 to October 2010), CINAHL (1982 to October 2010), Dissertation Abstracts International (31 January 2011), National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts (15 October 2010), PsycINFO (1872 to October Week 1 2010), Science Citation Index (1970 to 10 October 2010), Social Science Citation Index (1970 to 10 October 2010), Sociological Abstracts (1963 to October 2010), ZETOC (15 October 2010) and the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (15 October 2010). In addition, we searched Dissertation Abstracts International in January 2011 and ICTRP in August 2011.

Selection criteria: Randomised studies with samples of patients with BPD comparing a specific psychotherapeutic intervention against a control intervention without any specific mode of action or against a comparative specific psychotherapeutic intervention. Outcomes included overall BPD severity, BPD symptoms (DSM-IV criteria), psychopathology associated with but not specific to BPD, attrition and adverse effects.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected studies, assessed the risk of bias in the studies and extracted data.

Main results: Twenty-eight studies involving a total of 1804 participants with BPD were included. Interventions were classified as comprehensive psychotherapies if they included individual psychotherapy as a substantial part of the treatment programme, or as non-comprehensive if they did not.Among comprehensive psychotherapies, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), mentalisation-based treatment in a partial hospitalisation setting (MBT-PH), outpatient MBT (MBT-out), transference-focused therapy (TFP), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dynamic deconstructive psychotherapy (DDP), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) and interpersonal therapy for BPD (IPT-BPD) were tested against a control condition. Direct comparisons of comprehensive psychotherapies included DBT versus client-centered therapy (CCT); schema-focused therapy (SFT) versus TFP; SFT versus SFT plus telephone availability of therapist in case of crisis (SFT+TA); cognitive therapy (CT) versus CCT, and CT versus IPT.Non-comprehensive psychotherapeutic interventions comprised DBT-group skills training only (DBT-ST), emotion regulation group therapy (ERG), schema-focused group therapy (SFT-G), systems training for emotional predictability and problem solving for borderline personality disorder (STEPPS), STEPPS plus individual therapy (STEPPS+IT), manual-assisted cognitive treatment (MACT) and psychoeducation (PE). The only direct comparison of an non-comprehensive psychotherapeutic intervention against another was MACT versus MACT plus therapeutic assessment (MACT+). Inpatient treatment was examined in one study where DBT for PTSD (DBT-PTSD) was compared with a waiting list control. No trials were identified for cognitive analytical therapy (CAT).Data were sparse for individual interventions, and allowed for meta-analytic pooling only for DBT compared with treatment as usual (TAU) for four outcomes. There were moderate to large statistically significant effects indicating a beneficial effect of DBT over TAU for anger (n = 46, two RCTs; standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.83, 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.43 to -0.22; I(2) = 0%), parasuicidality (n = 110, three RCTs; SMD -0.54, 95% CI -0.92 to -0.16; I(2) = 0%) and mental health (n = 74, two RCTs; SMD 0.65, 95% CI 0.07 to 1.24 I(2) = 30%). There was no indication of statistical superiority of DBT over TAU in terms of keeping participants in treatment (n = 252, five RCTs; risk ratio 1.25, 95% CI 0.54 to 2.92).All remaining findings were based on single study estimates of effect. Statistically significant between-group differences for comparisons of psychotherapies against controls were observed for BPD core pathology and associated psychopathology for the following interventions: DBT, DBT-PTSD, MBT-PH, MBT-out, TFP and IPT-BPD. IPT was only indicated as being effective in the treatment of associated depression. No statistically significant effects were found for CBT and DDP interventions on either outcome, with the effect sizes moderate for DDP and small for CBT. For comparisons between different comprehensive psychotherapies, statistically significant superiority was demonstrated for DBT over CCT (core and associated pathology) and SFT over TFP (BPD severity and treatment retention). There were also encouraging results for each of the non-comprehensive psychotherapeutic interventions investigated in terms of both core and associated pathology.No data were available for adverse effects of any psychotherapy.

Authors' conclusions: There are indications of beneficial effects for both comprehensive psychotherapies as well as non-comprehensive psychotherapeutic interventions for BPD core pathology and associated general psychopathology. DBT has been studied most intensely, followed by MBT, TFP, SFT and STEPPS. However, none of the treatments has a very robust evidence base, and there are some concerns regarding the quality of individual studies. Overall, the findings support a substantial role for psychotherapy in the treatment of people with BPD but clearly indicate a need for replicatory studies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Psychotherapy, Group
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic