Michael A. Cummings, MD, has never liked the term “borderline personality disorder” (BPD). In his view, it’s a misnomer and needs to be changed.
“What is it bordering on? It’s not bordering on something, it’s a disorder on its own,” said Dr. Cummings of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, Riverside, and a psychopharmacology consultant with the California Department of State Hospitals’ Psychopharmacology Resource Network.
BPD grew out of the concept that patients were bordering on something, perhaps becoming bipolar. “In many ways, I don’t think it is even a personality disorder. It appears to be an inherent temperament that evolves into an inability to regulate mood.”
In his view, this puts it in the category of a mood dysregulation disorder.
Changing the label would not necessarily improve treatment, he added. However, transitioning from a pejorative to a more neutral label could make it easier for people to say, “this is just a type of mood disorder. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s workable,” said Dr. Cummings.
Others in the field contend that the term fits the condition. BPD “describes how it encompasses a lot of complex psychological difficulties, undermining functioning of patients in a specific way,” said Lois W. Choi-Kain, MD, MEd, director of the Gunderson Personality Disorders Institute, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass. The disorder was identified because of its relationship with other known psychiatric disorders, said Dr. Choi-Kain. “There’s an element of BPD that borders on mood disorders because moods are so unstable with BPD. It also borders on trauma-related disorders. It borders on psychotic disorders because there’s sometimes stress-induced experiences of losing contact with realistic thinking.”
If anything needs to change, it’s the attitude toward the disorder, not the name. “I don’t think the term itself is pejorative. But I think that associations with the term have been very stigmatizing. For a long time, there was an attitude that these patients could not be treated or had negative therapeutic reactions.”
Data suggest that these patients are highly prevalent in clinical settings. “And I interpret that as them seeking the care that they need rather than resisting care or not responding to care,” said Dr. Choi-Kain.