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Am J Psychiatry. 2005 May;162(5):867-75.

Borderline personality disorder in clinical practice.

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The Cambridge Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.



Most studies of borderline personality disorder have drawn patients from among hospital inpatients or outpatients. The aims of this study were to examine the nature of borderline personality disorder patients in everyday clinical practice and to use data from a sample of borderline personality disorder patients seen in the community to refine the borderline construct.


A random national sample of 117 experienced psychiatrists and psychologists from the membership registers of the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association provided data on a randomly selected patient with borderline personality disorder (N=90) or dysthymic disorder (N=27) from their practice. The clinicians provided data on axis I comorbidity, axis II comorbidity, and adaptive functioning, as well as a personality description of the patient using the Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure-200 (SWAP-200) Q-sort, an instrument designed for assessment and taxonomic purposes. Analyses compared borderline personality disorder and dysthymic disorder groups on variables of interest and aggregated SWAP-200 items across all borderline personality disorder patients to create a composite portrait of borderline personality disorder as seen in the community.


The borderline personality disorder sample strongly resembled previously studied borderline personality disorder samples with regard to comorbidity and adaptive functioning. However, the SWAP-200 painted a portrait of borderline personality disorder patients as having more distress and emotion dysregulation, compared to the DSM-IV description.


Borderline personality disorder patients in research samples are highly similar to those seen in a cross-section of clinical practice. However, several studies have now replicated a portrait of borderline personality disorder symptoms that places greater weight than the DSM-IV description on the intense psychological pain of these patients and suggests candidate diagnostic criteria for DSM-V.

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