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Psychodyn Psychiatry. Fall 2016;44(3):449-74. doi: 10.1521/pdps.2016.44.3.449.

Long-Term Course of Borderline Personality Disorder.

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Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.


Information concerning the longitudinal course of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) derives mainly from (a) long-term (10 to 25 year) retrospective follow-up studies, primarily those conducted during the 1980s/1990s, (b) brief (1 to 3 year) follow-up studies of recent randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of several different treatment approaches, and (c) prospective follow-up studies. The patients contacted in the retrospective studies had been treated mostly by psychoanalytically informed approaches or supportive. Though there was a significant suicide rate of 3 to 9%, about two-thirds of the BPD patients eventually achieved a global assessment score in the 60s or beyond. BPD represents a heterogeneous group of patients, whose outcome is a function of many variables, including personality traits (paranoid and narcissistic conducing to less favorable outcomes), cultural differences, socio-economic level, intelligence level, gender, and age of onset. The RCT studies focused on amelioration of the symptom components of BPD, especially tendencies to self-injury and suicide. The currently favored treatment methods showed in a large percentage of patients, a lessening of these self-destructive behaviors after a year or two of treatment. The time spans were too brief to allow assessment of improvement in key life areas (attainment of self-sufficiency in work, widening of the circle of friends, and success in forming satisfactory intimate partnerships). The prospective studies are based on reassessments at regular intervals of BPD patients and a control group with other personality disorders. Over the past 16 years the BPD patients, compared with controls, were slower to achieve remission, and more apt to show cognitive peculiarities initially-though they showed appreciable improvement over time. The "recovered" BPD patients, compared with the non-recovered patients, showed twice the likelihood of achieving a successful intimate relationship. At 16 years the McLean study has shown results similar (though scientifically more precise) to those of the old retrospective studies. The studies do not demonstrate the efficacy of one or another treatment approach, since, in long-term follow-up, psychotherapy, albeit essential, becomes one of a myriad of influences affecting outcome. There is general agreement that BPD patients who have experienced severe early trauma (including incest) are at greater risk for a poor outcome-as are those with prominent antisocial traits (more common in BPD males). The personality trait of agreeableness was associated with greater likelihood of favorable outcome.


borderline personality disorder; clinical remission and recovery; follow-up study; randomized controlled trial; suicide rate

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