Efficacy of Psychotherapies for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

JAMA Psychiatry. 2017 Apr 1;74(4):319-328. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.4287.


Importance: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a debilitating condition, but several psychotherapies are considered effective.

Objective: To conduct an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials to assess the efficacy of psychotherapies for BPD populations.

Data sources: Search terms were combined for borderline personality and randomized trials in PubMed, PsycINFO, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (from database inception to November 2015), as well as the reference lists of earlier meta-analyses.

Study selection: Included were randomized clinical trials of adults with diagnosed BPD randomized to psychotherapy exclusively or to a control intervention. Study selection differentiated stand-alone designs (in which an independent psychotherapy was compared with control interventions) from add-on designs (in which an experimental intervention added to usual treatment was compared with usual treatment alone).

Data extraction and synthesis: Data extraction coded characteristics of trials, participants, and interventions and assessed risk of bias using 4 domains of the Cochrane Collaboration Risk of Bias tool (independent extraction by 2 assessors). Outcomes were pooled using a random-effects model. Subgroup and meta-regression analyses were conducted.

Main outcomes and measures: Standardized mean differences (Hedges g) were calculated using all outcomes reported in the trials for borderline symptoms, self-harm, suicide, health service use, and general psychopathology at posttest and follow-up. Differential treatment retention at posttest was analyzed, reporting odds ratios.

Results: Thirty-three trials (2256 participants) were included. For borderline-relevant outcomes combined (symptoms, self-harm, and suicide) at posttest, the investigated psychotherapies were moderately more effective than control interventions in stand-alone designs (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.14-0.51) and add-on designs (g = 0.40; 95% CI, 0.15-0.65). Results were similar for other outcomes, including stand-alone designs: self-harm (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.09-0.54), suicide (g = 0.44; 95% CI, 0.15-0.74), health service use (g = 0.40; 95% CI, 0.22-0.58), and general psychopathology (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.09-0.55), with no differences between design types. There were no significant differences in the odds ratios for treatment retention (1.32; 95% CI, 0.87-2.00 for stand-alone designs and 1.01; 95% CI, 0.55-1.87 for add-on designs). Thirteen trials reported borderline-relevant outcomes at follow-up (g = 0.45; 95% CI, 0.15-0.75). Dialectical behavior therapy (g = 0.34; 95% CI, 0.15-0.53) and psychodynamic approaches (g = 0.41; 95% CI, 0.12-0.69) were the only types of psychotherapies more effective than control interventions. Risk of bias was a significant moderator in subgroup and meta-regression analyses (slope β = -0.16; 95% CI, -0.29 to -0.03; P = .02). Publication bias was persistent, particularly for follow-up.

Conclusions and relevance: Psychotherapies, most notably dialectical behavior therapy and psychodynamic approaches, are effective for borderline symptoms and related problems. Nonetheless, effects are small, inflated by risk of bias and publication bias, and particularly unstable at follow-up.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Psychotherapy, Psychodynamic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / diagnosis
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / therapy
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Treatment Outcome