Background: This study focused on the predictors of therapy dropout in a naturalistic sample of patients with borderline pathology receiving dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in an inpatient setting. We assumed that the change of the therapist between DBT-briefing and start of DBT-treatment as well as comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and childhood trauma history were associated with elevated dropout.
Methods: Eighty-nine participants with borderline pathology (≥ 3 borderline personality disorder criteria) receiving an inpatient DBT program completed a quality assurance questionnaire set assessing demographic information and pretreatment psychopathology during the days of their inpatient stay. Beyond that, changes of therapists were documented. The predictor analyses were investigated with generalized estimating equations.
Results: The dropout rate was 24.7%. A change of therapist between DBT-briefing and treatment as well as high childhood emotional abuse was associated with premature termination of treatment. Higher values of physical neglect during childhood were associated with a protective effect on treatment dropout. Surprisingly, this was also true for comorbid PTSD.
Conclusions: This study supports the importance of therapy process variables as predictors of therapy dropout in borderline pathology. A change of therapist between DBT-briefing and treatment was associated with an increased vulnerability for dropping out of treatment and should therefore be avoided if possible. Against our hypotheses, a comorbid PTSD was even protective with regard to DBT dropout. Therefore, this severely suffering patient group should not be rejected from treatment assuming them to be too unstable for psychotherapy. However, results need to be replicated. ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03018639, retrospectively registered on January 9, 2017.
Keywords: Borderline personality disorder; Dialectical behavior therapy; Dropout; Posttraumatic stress disorder.