According to the DSM-IV, “Personality Disorders are mental illnesses that share several unique qualities. They contain symptoms that are enduring and play a major role in most, if not all, aspects of the person’s life. While many disorders vacillate in terms of symptom presence and intensity, personality disorders typically remain relatively constant.” Further, the DSM-IV says that in order to be diagnosed, the following criteria must be met:
- Symptoms have been present for an extended period of time, are inflexible and pervasive, and are not a result of alcohol or drugs or another psychiatric disorder. The history of symptoms can be traced back to adolescence or at least early childhood.
- The symptoms have caused and continue to cause significant distress or negative consequences in different aspects of the person’s life.
- The symptoms are seen in at least two of the following areas
- Thoughts (ways of looking at the world, thinking about self or others, and interacting)
- Emotions (appropriateness, intensity, and range of emotional functioning)
- Interpersonal Functioning (relationships and interpersonal skills)
- Impulse Control 1
In layman’s terms, someone suffering from a personality disorder often views the world in their own way. Because the perceptions of those around them are often skewed to meet a reality only they see, the subsequent social issues stemming from the inability to interact with others appropriately is troubling–both for the one afflicted and those on the receiving end of the negative behaviors and perceptions. For the Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP), the major symptoms revolve around interpersonal interactions, negative sense of self, significant mood swings, and impulsivity. Where Narcissistic Personality disorder presents itself as grandiose and uncaring yet hungry for recognition, Borderline Personality Disorders can often be summed up like this: “I hate you…don’t leave me.”
Unfortunately, personality disorders are sometimes used as a quick label for a difficult client. However, the criteria are pretty significant and the diagnosis itself should be made after significant assessment by a qualified professional. Those ensconced in the emotional turmoil of a legitimate personality disorder need be able to find some solace in their psychiatric care and trust in the individuals providing care, especially since treatment for personality disorders are long term. The type of therapeutic treatment used depends upon the type of personality disorder being treated. The various types of therapy used to treat personality disorders may include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy
Personality disorders are tricky and can be hard to address. Applying DBT, for example, has shown positive results in the treatment of BPD–recent studies have shown lower suicide rates, less self-harming incidents, and less self-removal from treatment. We must remember that psychiatry is a relatively young science, so the growth and change is happening quickly as practitioners eagerly seek resolution to some of the most challenging psychological quandaries. A therapist once said to me, “If someone were to observe a given client in a single session, they could come up with a variety of diagnoses, when the fact is, that client could have just been having a bad day.” So, whether a client is simply having that bad day or truly struggling with a bona fide disorder, it’s befitting to remember the words of Hippocrates as we unravel the mysteries of mental illness: “Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.”
Additional articles of interest: