Transference-Focused Psychotherapy for Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (TFP-N)

Psychodyn Psychiatry. 2021 Summer;49(2):244-272. doi: 10.1521/pdps.2021.49.2.244.


In this article, we provide an overview of transference-focused psychotherapy for patients with pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (TFP-N). In TFP-N we have modified and refined the tactics and techniques of TFP, an evidence-based treatment for borderline personality disorder, to meet the specific challenges of working with patients with narcissistic personality pathology whose retreat from reality into an illusory grandiosity makes them particularly difficult to engage in treatment. We first describe a model of narcissistic pathology based on considerations of psychological structure stemming from object relations theory. This model provides a unifying understanding of the core structure of narcissistic pathology, the pathological grandiose self, that underlies the impairments in self and interpersonal functioning of those with narcissistic pathology across the levels of personality organization (from high functioning to borderline to malignant). We then delineate the clinical process of working with patients with pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. Starting with the assessment process, using a detailed clinical example, we guide the reader through the progression of TFP-N as it helps the patient move from the distorted, unintegrated sense of self underlying the narcissistic presentation to the more integrated, realistic sense of self that characterizes healthier personality functioning. In TFP-N the focus on the disturbed interpersonal patterns of relating in the here and now of the therapeutic interaction is the vehicle to diminish grandiosity and improve relatedness, thereby effecting enduring changes in mental representation and real-world functioning.

Keywords: narcissistic pathology; narcissistic personality disorder; pathological narcissism; psychodynamic psychotherapy; transference-focused psychotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Borderline Personality Disorder* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Narcissism*
  • Object Attachment
  • Personality Disorders / therapy
  • Psychotherapy