Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) for forensic psychiatric patients: An Italian pilot study

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2019 Apr;29(2):122-130. doi: 10.1002/cbm.2102. Epub 2019 Jan 15.


Background: Several previous randomised controlled trials of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) since Linehan's original have shown that it has an advantage over standard care or other psychological treatments, but focus is usually on suicide-related behaviours, and little is known about its effect with offender-patients.

Aims: To evaluate DBT with a group of offender-patients in the Italian high intensity therapeutic facilities-the Residenze per l'Esecuzione delle Misure di Sicurezza (REMS), established under the Italian Law 81/2014.

Methods: Twenty-one male forensic psychiatric in-patients with borderline personality disorder were enrolled and randomly assigned to 12 months of standard DBT together with all the usual REMS treatments (n = 10) or usual REMS treatments alone (n = 11). All participants completed the same pretreatment and posttreatment assessments, including the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11), Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS), and Toronto Alexithymia Scale 20 (TAS-20).

Results: Men receiving DBT showed a significantly greater reduction in motor impulsiveness, as measured by the BIS-11, and emotional regulation, as reflected by the DERS total score, than the controls. There were no significant differences between groups in alexithymia scores.

Conclusions: Italy has innovative forensic psychiatric facilities with a new recovery-rehabilitation approach, but the ambitious goals behind these cannot be achieved by pharmacology alone. For the first time in clinical forensic settings in Italy, there has been limited access to DBT. This small pilot study suggests this is likely to help ameliorate traits associated with violent and antisocial behaviours, so a full-scale randomised controlled trial should follow.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / therapy*
  • Criminals / psychology*
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Treatment Outcome