From the Journals

Effective alternatives to psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder



Early interventions that focus on clinical case management and psychiatric care, and not necessarily on individual psychotherapy, are effective for young patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), new research suggests.

Findings from the Monitoring Outcomes of Borderline Personality Disorder in Youth (MOBY) trial also showed improved psychosocial functioning and reduced suicide ideation with these therapies.

Dr. John M. Oldham, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston

Dr. John M. Oldham

The results suggest that, contrary to common belief, psychotherapy is not the only effective approach for early BPD, lead author Andrew M. Chanen, PhD, director of clinical programs and services and head of personality disorder research at Orygen, Melbourne, told this news organization.

“We can say that early diagnosis and early treatment is effective, and the treatment doesn’t need to involve individual psychotherapy but does need to involve clinical case management and psychiatric care,” said Dr. Chanen, a professorial fellow at the Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne.

The findings were published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

Extreme sensitivity

Patients with BPD have “extreme sensitivity to interpersonal slights” and often exhibit intense and volatile emotions and impulsive behavior, Dr. Chanen noted. Many will self-harm, abuse drugs, or attempt suicide; the suicide rate among patients with BPD is 8%-10%.

The condition is typically diagnosed in puberty or early adulthood, affecting about 3% of young people and a little more than 1% of adults.

Because of their aggression and interpersonal difficulties, patients with BPD are often discriminated against by health professionals and end up not getting treated, said Dr. Chanen.

Those who are treated often receive individual psychotherapy, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). That type of therapy, which teaches healthy ways to cope with stress and regulate emotions, is very effective, Dr. Chanen said.

The MOBY trial examined three treatment approaches: the Helping Young People Early (HYPE) model, HYPE combined with weekly “befriending,” and a general youth mental health service (YMHS) model combined with befriending.

A key element of HYPE is cognitive analytic therapy, a psychotherapy program focused on understanding problematic self-management and interpersonal relationship patterns. The model includes clinical case management, such as attending to housing, vocational and educational issues, other mental health needs, and physical health needs.

In the second model, the psychotherapy of the HYPE program was replaced with befriending, which involves chatting with a patient about neutral topics such as sports and avoiding emotionally loaded topics such as interpersonal problems.

For YMHS plus befriending, experts trained in treating young people, but not specialized in treating BPD, were involved in managing patients.

‘High satisfaction’

Researchers randomly assigned 139 participants aged 15-25 years (80.6% women; mean age, 19.1 years) with BPD to one of the treatment arms. Of these, 128 (92.1%) were included in the intent-to-treat analysis.

The primary endpoint was psychosocial functioning, as measured by the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems Circumplex Version and the Social Adjustment Scale–Self-Report. Secondary endpoints included suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, nonsuicidal self-injury, depression, substance use, and treatment satisfaction.

The investigators reported group averages, but the study’s noninferiority design did not allow for determining if one treatment had superior efficacy.

All groups improved significantly on the primary endpoint. At 12 months, there was a mean 28.91-point (23.8%) drop in interpersonal problems and a mean 0.55-point (19.3%) drop in social adjustment scores.

For secondary outcomes, mean improvements at 12 months ranged from 40.7% (17.64 points) on the depression scale to 52.7% (6.22 points) for suicide ideation.

“The only area where the treatment didn’t really have an impact was substance use,” said Dr. Chanen. “Satisfaction was high for all three interventions throughout the study, and it’s hard to improve on high satisfaction.”


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