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Am J Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;165(9):1127-35. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.07081360. Epub 2008 Aug 1.

Mentalization: ontogeny, assessment, and application in the treatment of borderline personality disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill St., Belmont, MA 02478, USA.


This article aims to review the development of the concept of mentalization, its applications in the understanding and treatment of borderline personality disorder, and the issue of its assessment. While conceptually derivative of theory of mind, Fonagy's concept of mentalization concerns more affectively and interpersonally complex understandings of oneself and others, reflecting abilities that enable an individual not only to navigate the social world effectively but also to develop an enriched, stable sense of self. The components of mentalization can be organized around self-/other-oriented, implicit/explicit, and cognitive/affective dimensions. Concepts of mindfulness, psychological mindedness, empathy, and affect consciousness are shown to partially overlap with mentalization within these three dimensions. Mentalization is assessed by the measure of reflective function, a scale to be used adjunctively on semistructured narrative interviews such as the Adult Attachment Interview. Its validity has not been fully tested, and its usage has been hampered by the time and expense it requires. Although the concept of mentalization is a useful heuristic that enables clinicians to adopt a coherent treatment approach, it may be too broad and multifaceted to be operationalized as a marker for specific forms of psychopathology such as borderline personality disorder. Research elucidating the relationship between reflective function, overlapping concepts, and features of borderline psychopathology is needed.

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