The mechanisms of change in the treatment of borderline personality disorder with transference focused psychotherapy

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DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20239 · Source: PubMed
Abstract
We address how Transference Focused Psychotherapy (TFP) conceptualizes mechanisms in the cause and maintenance of borderline personality disorder (BPD) as well as change mechanisms both within the patient and in terms of specific therapists' interventions that engender patient change. Mechanisms of change at the level of the patient involve the integration of polarized representations of self and others; mechanisms of change at the level of the therapist's interventions include the structured treatment approach and the use of clarification, confrontation, and "transference" interpretations in the here and now of the therapeutic relationship. In addition, we briefly review evidence from our group regarding the following hypothesized mechanisms of change: contract setting, integration of representations, and changes in reflective functioning (RF) and affect regulation.
The Mechanisms of Change in the Treatment of
Borderline Personality Disorder With Transference
Focused Psychotherapy
Kenneth N. Levy
Pennsylvania State University and Joan and
Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
John F. Clarkin and Frank E. Yeomans
Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Lori N. Scott and Rachel H. Wasserman
Pennsylvania State University
Ot to F. Kernberg
Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
We address how Transference Focused Psychotherapy (TFP) conceptual-
izes mechanisms in the cause and maintenance of borderline personality
disorder (BPD) as well as change mechanisms both within the patient and
in terms of specific therapists’ interventions that engender patient change.
Mechanisms of change at the level of the patient involve the integration of
polarized representations of self and others; mechanisms of change at the
level of the therapist’s inter ventions include the structured treatment
approach and the use of clarification, confrontation, and “transference”
interpretations in the here and now of the therapeutic relationship. In
addition, we briefly review evidence from our group regarding the follow-
ing hypothesized mechanisms of change: contract setting, integration of
representations, and changes in reflective functioning (RF) and affect
regulation. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol 62: 481–501,
2006.
Keywords: mechanisms of change; Transference Focused Therapy;
borderline personality disorder
We would like to thank Lindsay L. Hill for assistance with the article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Kenneth N. Levy, Department of Psychology,
Pennsylvania State University, 240 Moore Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; e-mail: klevy@psu.edu.
JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 62(4), 481–501 (2006) © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20239
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious and prevalent psychiatric problem
characterized by affective instability, angry outbursts, frequent suicidality and parasui-
cidality, and marked deficits in the capacity to work and to maintain meaningful relation-
ships. Epidemiological, prevalence, and longitudinal studies suggest that BPD affects
approximately 1– 4% of the general population, 1015% of psychiatric outpatients, and
up to 20% of psychiatric inpatients (Lenzenweger, Loranger, Korfine, & Neff, 1997;
Paris, 1999; Torgersen, Kringlen, & Cramer, 2001; Weissman, 1993; Widiger & Frances,
1989; Widiger & Weissman, 1991; Zimmerman, Rothschild, & Chelminski, 2005). In
adult clinical outpatient and inpatient samples, the majority of patients are women; how-
ever, both forensic and veteran populations reflect high levels of BPD in men (South-
wick, Yehuda, & Giller, 1993, Timmerman & Emmelkamp, 2001), and community samples
find a relatively even distribution of men and women (Lenzenweger et al., 1997). One
study examining prevalence in a primary care waiting room found 6% of patients met the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) criteria
for BPD (Gross et al., 2002).
BPD is highly comorbid with other personality disorders, as well as with a number of
Axis I disorders, most notably depression, anxiety, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress
disorder, and substance abuse (Zanarini et al., 1999). Zanarini and colleagues (Zanarini
et al., 1999) found that BPD could be depicted by a pattern of what she called complex
comorbidity, characterized by multiple comorbid diagnoses that included both internal-
izing and externalizing disorders. Consistently with this finding, Grilo and colleagues
(Grilo, Becker, Walker, Edell, & McGlashan, 1997 ) found that 86% of those meeting
criteria for major depression and substance abuse were comorbid for BPD. This is par-
ticularly problematic in relation to the finding that treatment outcome studies of Axis I
disorders that included comorbid BPD patients have found that BPD has detrimental
effects on the treatment of the Axis I disorders—negatively affecting both the psycho-
therapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy for these disorders (see Clar-
kin, 1996). Thus, much of what we know about empirically supported treatments for
Axis I disorders can be discarded when the patient has a comorbid diagnosis of borderline
personality disorder.
Not surprisingly, patients who have borderline personality disorder utilize higher
levels of services in emergency rooms, day hospital and partial hospitalization programs,
outpatient clinics and inpatient units (Bender et al., 2001). For example, although bor-
derline patients made up only 1% of the patient population seen in a psychiatric emer-
gency room, they accounted for 12% of all visits ( Bongar, Peterson, Golann, & Hardiman,
1990) and 20% of psychiatric hospitalizations (Zanarini & Frankenburg, 2000). In addi-
tion, patients who have BPD constitute up to 40% of frequent recidivists in psychiatric
hospitals (Geller, 1986; Swigar, Astrachan, Levine, Mayfield, & Radovich, 1991). A
survey of Australian psychiatrists found that although patients who have personality dis-
orders represented only 6 percent of the patients in treatment, they accounted for 13
percent of the psychiatrists’ treatment time (Andrews & Hadzi-Pavlovic, 1988). Moran,
Jenkins, Tylee, Blizard, and Mann (2000) found that those who have personality dis-
orders (PDs) are more likely than those who do not have them to consult their general
medical practitioner on an emergency basis.
Patients who have BPD typically experience profound impairment in general func-
tioning (Bender et al., 2001; Skodal et al., 2002); for example, these patients are often
unemployed or underemployed in relation to their capacities, training, and socioeco-
nomic status. Perhaps the most perplexing symptom is the high level of parasuicidality
(Clarkin, W idiger, Frances, Hurt, & Gilmore, 1983; Zisook, Goff, Sledge, & Schucter,1994),
which ranges from 69% to 80%. Parasuicidal behavior predicts suicidality and patients
482 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
who have BPD have an estimated suicide completion rate of between 8% and 10% (Mc-
Glashan, 1986; Stone, 1983).
Further compounding these problems, patients who have borderline personality dis-
order are notoriously difficult to treat. The disorder is characterized by high rates and
chaotic use of medical and psychiatric services, repeated patterns of dropout, erratic
psychotherapy attendance, refusal to take medications as prescribed, and pervasive non-
compliance (Gunderson et al., 1989; Kelly, Soloff, Cornelius, George, & Lis, 1992; Skodal,
Buckley, & Charles, 1983; Waldinger & Frank, 1989; Waldinger & Gunderson, 1984).
Thus, BPD is a debilitating and life-threatening disorder that represents a serious clinical
and public health concern.
Several psychotherapy studies have reported evidence for the efficacy (Bateman &
Fonagy, 1999; Koons et al., 2001; Linehan, Armstrong, Suarez, Allmon, & Heard, 1991;
Linehan, Kanter, & Comtois, 1999; Linehan et al., 1999; Linehan et al., 2002; Turner,
2000; Verheul et al., 2003) and effectiveness (Blum, Pfohl, & St. John, 2002; Brown,
Newman, Charleswor th, 2004; Clarkin, et al., 2001; Ryle & Golynkina, 2000; Stevenson
& Meares, 1992) of specific treatments for patients who have BPD. Furthermore, studies
testing the effectiveness and efficacy of new treatments have recently been completed
(Giesen-Bloo & Arntz, 2000; Clarkin, Levy, Lenzenweger, & Kernberg, 2005) or are
currently being conducted (Markowitz, Skodol, Bleiberg, & Strasser-Vorus, 2004).
One such treatment that has garnered effectiveness and efficacy data in clinical trials
is Transference Focused Psychotherapy (TFP; Clarkin et al., 1999, 2001, 2005), a highly
structured, twice-weekly modified psychodynamic treatment based on Kernberg’s (1984)
object relations model of BPD. Recent studies have demonstrated TFP’s effectiveness in
using patients as their own controls (Clarkin et al., 2001) and in comparison to a treatment-
as-usual BPD group (Levy, Clarkin, Foelsch, & Kernberg, 2004). In addition, a random-
ized control trial (Clarkin, Levy, Lenzenweger, & Kernberg, 2004) comparing TFP,
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and supportive psychotherapy (SPT) found reduced
suicidality and anger in patients treated with TFP and DBT, but not in those treated with
SPT; all three treatments were effective in reducing depression and anxiety and in improv-
ing global functioning and social adjustment. Only TFP was consistently related to reduc-
tions in aggression (Clarkin et al., 2005) and only TFP showed increases in personality
change as indicated by changes in attachment coherence and reflective function
1
(Levy,
Kelly, Meehan, Reynoso, Clarkin, Lenzenweger, & Kernberg, 2005). Both the findings
about aggression and personality organization are important given the focus in TFP on
aggression, reflectiveness, and increased integration of representations of self and others.
What is becoming clear is that although BPD is a chronic problem functionally, it is also
a highly treatable disorder (Leichsenring & Leibing, 2003; Oldham et al., 2001; Perry, Banon,
& Ianni, 1999). What remain uncer tain, however, are the mechanisms in the development
and maintenance of BPD, the processes of change within patients during treatment, and the
specific therapeutic techniques that bring about such changes. Therefore, despite the sup-
port for the effectiveness and even efficacy of existing treatments for BPD, researchers are
still confronted with a high degree of uncertainty about the underlying processes of change.
In order to conceptualize change mechanisms in psychotherapy, one must address
the question of how borderline personality disorder develops. In a series of important
articles for conceptualizing child psychotherapy, which are also relevant to the adult
literature, Kazdin (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004) proposed that the first stages in treatment
1
Fonagy ( Fonagy et al., 1997) notes that the term reflective function (RF) refers to the psychological processes
underlying the capacity to mentalize, a concept that has been described in both the psychoanalytic (Fonagy,
1991; Fonagy & Higgitt, 1989) and cognitive psychology literatures (Morton & Frith, 1995).
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 483
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
development are the following: (1) to elaborate the core affective, cognitive, and behav-
ioral mechanisms involved in the development and maintenance of a specific clinical
problem; (2) to study multifinality and equifinality for understanding the heterogeneity of
a disorder; (3) to understand the relationship between social environments and biological
predispositions; and (4) to understand developmental processes, pathways, and the vari-
ous courses that the disorder takes. Understanding these questions leads to two additional
questions about mechanisms of change: (1) What changes occur within a person? (2)
How and why do treatments work for a specific population of clients who have a partic-
ular disorder? Or, as Gordon Paul proposed: “What treatment, by whom, is most effective
for this individual with that specific problem, and under which set of circumstances?”
(Paul, 1967, p. 111). Thus, change mechanisms
2
can be conceptualized at two levels: (1)
what is hypothesized to change in the patient (e.g., increased self-esteem or emotion
regulation skills, increased emotional stability, or increased mindfulness) and (2) what
are the active ingredients in the treatment that elicit the change in the patient (e.g., the
teaching of new skills, interpretation of transference, or provision of emotional support).
In the present article we address how TFP conceptualizes mechanisms in the cause and
maintenance of BPD as well as change mechanisms both within the patient and in terms
of what the therapists does to engender change in the patient.
How Does TFP Conceptualize the Cause and Maintenance of BPD?
As do other theories of BPD (e.g., Bateman & Fonagy, 2003; Linehan, 1993), T FP con-
ceptualizes the basic etiological elements of BPD as an interaction between constitutional
and environmental factors that results in a personality structure or organization character-
ized by identity disturbance; use of immature or low-level defense mechanisms such as pro-
jective identification, splitting, and omnipotent control; and deficits in social reality testing
(although perceptual reality testing is generally maintained ). Regarding the interaction
between biological constitution and environment, Kernberg (1984) posits that BPD patients
have difficulty integrating disparate representations of themselves and others, in part, because
negative emotions, particularly aggression, disrupt one’s capacity to integrate these par tial
representations. Strong unmetabolized or unprocessed emotions have the capacity to over-
whelm positive representations. Kernberg further hypothesizes that individuals may there-
fore be motivated to keep these representations separate or split in an effor t to protect the
positive representations of themselves and others (or some combination of self and other
representations). These high levels of negative emotionality and aggression can be consti-
tutional or engendered through experience, or some combination of the two. Regardless of
origin, high levels of aggression interfere with the normative developmental process of inte-
grating disparate representations, and instead the high levels of aggression result in a divi-
sion between positive and negative representations. Likewise, Siever and colleagues (Gurvits,
Koenigsberg, & Siever, 2000) point out that affective instability may interfere with the abil-
ity to develop stable perceptions of self and others. They note that both the specific role of
aggression and the more general role of affect lability may make the developmental task of
integrating stable representations of self and others more difficult to accomplish. However,
Kernberg and colleagues (Clarkin, Yeomans, & Kernberg, 2006) also note that emotional
instability in borderline personality disorder can be secondary to a lack of differentiation
and integration of internal images of self and others, which leads to instability in one’s sense
2
Although some authors (e.g., Doss, 2004) have differentiated between processes and mechanisms of change,
these distinctions are often arbitrary and are unnecessary for our purposes; therefore, the terms are used inter-
changeably in this paper.
484 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
of self and ultimately to affective instability. Thus, the relationship between lack of inte-
gration of representations and affective instability may operate in a vicious circle, as the inten-
sity of early affects results in a split experience of self and others to protect positive
representations, which then may lead to further affective instability by failing to provide a
foundation from which to understand oneself and others.
The relative influences of constitutional and environmental factors can vary in relation
to each other. For example, the higher the constitutional disadvantage, the lower the thresh-
old for environmental perturbations to overwhelm the child’s capacity to assimilate and
accommodate to his or her environment. Conversely, a child who has a low constitutional
load may be resilient to greater perturbations. In addition, family stressors may affect the
developing child directly and through the effects on caregivers. Finally, the development
of undifferentiated and unintegrated representation models of self and others may leave one
vulnerable to life’s stressors and traumatic experiences. Research, which is consistent with
this idea, suggests that patients who have borderline personality disorder can be differen-
tiated from other psychiatric patients not on the basis of trauma, which is relatively high across
psychiatric diagnoses, but instead on the basis of their lack of resolution of traumatic expe-
riences and lack of capacity to reflect on such experiences (Fonagy et al., 1996; Patrick, Hob-
son, Castle, Howard, & Maughan, 1994). Patrick and colleagues (1994) found that BPD
patients, compared with depressed patients, were no more likely to have had a history of
trauma but were more likely to lack resolution of trauma events (75% vs. 20%). Fonagy and
coworkers (1996) found that 97% of patients who have a history of abuse and low reflec-
tive functioning met criteria for BPD, whereas only 17% of abused patients who had high
reflective function did. Thus, potentially traumatic experiences become traumatizing when
the individual cannot adequately reflect on or integrate the experience into a fuller context.
Common factors are usually only conceptualized as elements of psychotherapy that
converge across different treatment approaches; however, common factors may also exist
in etiological theories. One potential common etiological mechanism in BPD, although
articulated in subtly divergent ways, is what Kernberg (1984) calls identity diffusion (an
absence of identity consolidation), what Bateman and Fonagy (2003) call a deficit or
inhibition of mentalization, and what Linehan (1993) calls a deficit in mindfulness. All of
these terms describe a lack of metasocial-cognitive ability to observe, reflect, and describe
emotional states; predict and understand behavior; and recognize the difference between
inner and outer reality and the capacity to reconcile opposing thoughts or mental states.
Likewise, Kernberg, Fonagy, and Linehan all suggest environmental contributions to the
development of BPD. Linehan (1993) posits an environment in which the child’s emo-
tional experiences have been invalidated. Fonagy and colleagues (Fonagy, Target, Gergely,
Allen, & Bateman, 2003) suggest a similar process by which the parent fails to compre-
hend the child’s mind. This process results in the child’s having difficulty thinking about
his or her own mind and that of others and leaves the child holding the caregiver’s mind.
Fonagy contends that the child experiences the caregivers projections as “alien” or as an
“alien self,” which in Winnicott’s words is experienced as a “false self.” This alien self
leaves the child feeling disconnected from his or her true internal world and needing to
project the alien self onto others. Likewise, Kernberg describes similar experiences
in childhood. Moving beyond these similarities, there are differences in the techniques
of how these problems should be addressed and the question of whether these patients
can achieve “normal” personality functioning.
3
Kernberg’s (1984) concept of identity
3
By normal personality we mean the achievement of satisfactory love relationships, work investments, and
emotion regulation at levels consistent with those of nonpatients.
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 485
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
consolidation, which is characterized by the integration of mental representations of self,
others, and affective experience, also appears to be strongly related to patterns of affect
and self-regulation. Levy (2000) found that less differentiated and integrated representa-
tions of self and other were significantly related to the self-repor ted use of more mal-
adaptive strategies (e.g., self-injurious behaviors, promiscuous sex, illicit drug use, and
violent fantasies and behaviors) to regulate negative affective states.
What Putatively Changes in the Patient Treated With TFP and
How Does the Therapist Facilitate Those Changes?
In T FP, hypothesized mechanisms of change derive from Kernberg’s (1984) developmen-
tally based theory of BPD, which conceptualizes the disorder in terms of unintegrated
and undifferentiated affects and representations (or concepts) of self and other. Partial
representations of self and other are paired and linked by an affect in mental units called
object relations dyads. These dyads are elements of psychological structure. In borderline
pathology, the lack of integration of the internal object relations dyads corresponds to a
“split” psychological structure in which totally negative representations are split off/
segregated from idealized positive representations of self and other (Figure 1). The puta-
tive global mechanism of change in patients treated with TFP is the integration of these
polarized affect states and representations of self and other into a more coherent whole.
Through the exploration and integration of these “split off cognitive-affective units of
self and other representations, Kernberg postulates that the patient’s awareness and expe-
rience in life become more enriched and modulated, and the patient develops the capacity
to think more flexibly, realistically, and benevolently. The integration of the split and
polarized concepts of self and others leads to a more complex, differentiated, and realistic
sense of self and others that allows for better modulation of affects and in turn clearer
thinking (Figure 2). Therefore, as split-off representations become integrated, patients
tend to experience increased coherence of identity, relationships that are balanced and not
Figure 1. Split organization: Separation of positive and negative representations and affects.
486 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
at risk of being overwhelmed by aggressive affect, greater capacity for intimacy, reduc-
tion in self-destructive behaviors, and general improvement in functioning. This initial
conceptualization has been elaborated in light of an evolving developmental and neuro-
science empirical literature (Clarkin, in press; Posner et al., 2003).
According to Kernberg and his colleagues (Clarkin et al., in press), in T FP the puta-
tive mechanisms of change at the level of the therapist’s interventions begin with the
structured treatment approach (or what Bateman and Fonagy call a “theoretically coher-
ent” treatment approach, e.g., the use of a treatment manual, treatment contract, hierarchy
of problems addressed, and group supervision for therapists) and the use of clarification,
confrontation (honest inquiry pointing out disparate information), and “transference”
interpretations in the here and now of the therapeutic relationship (very similar to Kohlen-
berg’s (1994) work on functional analytic psychotherapy) (Figure 3). Using the triad of
clarifications, confrontations and interpretations, the TFP therapist is thought to provide
the patient with the opportunity to integrate cognitions and affects that were previously
split and disorganized. In addition, the highly engaged, interactive, and emotionally intense
stance of the therapist is thought to be experienced by patients as emotionally holding
(i.e., containing) because the therapist conveys that he or she can tolerate the patient’s
negative affective states. Furthermore, the therapist’s expectation of the patient’s ability
to have a thoughtful and disciplined approach to emotional states (i.e., that the patient is
a fledgling version of a capable, responsible, and reflective adult) is thought to be expe-
rienced as cognitively holding. The therapist’s timely, clear, and tactful interpretations of
the dominant, affect-laden themes and patient enactments in the here and now of the
transference are hypothesized to shed light on the reasons that representations remain
split off and thus facilitate integrating polarized representations of self and others.
With regard to the flow of treatment, the structured frame of TFP facilitates the full
activation of the patient’s distorted internal representations of self and other in the ongoing
Figure 2. Integrated organization: Awareness of richness and complexity in self and others.
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 487
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
relationship between patient and therapist, which constitutes the transference. It is expected
that the unintegrated representations of self and other will be activated in the treatment
setting as they are in every aspect of the patient’s life. These partial representations are
constantly active in determining the patient’s experience of real life interactions and in
motivating the patient’s behavior. The difference in the therapy is that the therapist both
experiences the patient’s representation of the interaction and nonjudgmentally observes
and comments on it (within the psychoanalytic literature, which is known as the third
position). This process is facilitated by the therapist’s establishing a treatment frame
(e.g., contract), which, in addition to providing structure and holding for the patient and
a consensual reality from which to examine acting out behavior, minimizes the therapist’s
potential for acting in iatrogenic ways. The therapist does not respond to the patient’s
fragmented one-dimensional partial representation but helps the patient observe it and
the implied other that is paired with it.
As these internal object relations unfold in the relation with the therapist, the TFP
therapist seeks cognitive clarification of the patient’s internal experience because the
patient may not have a clear representation of his or her own experience This technique
of clarification appeals for explication of internal states and for reflection. However, in
most cases this technique alone does not lead to integration because clarification alone
does not address the conflicts that keep the partial representations separated. Con-
frontation—the technique of inquiring about the elements of the patient’s verbal and
nonverbal communications that are in contradiction with each other— and interpretation
of obstacles to integration are needed to allow the patient to progress beyond the level of
split organization. Interpretation includes helping the patient see that he or she identifies
at different moments in time with each pole of the predominant object relations dyads
within him or her, that is, that self-representation and object representation can switch,
often without the patient’s awareness. Increasing the patient’s awareness of his or her
range of identifications increases his or her ability to integrate the different parts.
Figure 3. Mechanisms of change in transference-focused psychotherapy.
488 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
Movement toward integration initially causes anxiety because of the existence of the
internal barriers that keep conflicting affects separate. The scenarios reexperienced with
the therapist in the transference are not simply a literal reproduction of what the patient
experienced in the past, but a mix of what happened, how the patient perceived what
happened, and what the patient defensively set up to avoid awareness of aspects of con-
flicts that are consciously intolerable. Interpretations are hypotheses in which the thera-
pist offers a cognitive formulation of the temporally split-off object relations as they are
activated in the transference, and of the reasons that they remain separated. As the ther-
apy advances, interpretations can address deeper levels of conflicts within the patient.
On the practical level, the relationship with the therapist in TFP is structured under
controlled conditions in order to allow the patient to experience affects without their
overwhelming the situation and destroying communication. The negotiation of a treat-
ment frame provides a safe setting—a containment or holding environment—for the
reactivation of the internalized relation paradigms. The safety and stability of the thera-
peutic environment permit the patient to begin to reflect about what is going on in the
present with another person, in light of these internalized paradigms. The process is
similar to what attachment theorists would describe as a safe haven, which along with the
guidance of an attachment figure allows for the exploration of the content of the mind.
With guidance from the therapist, the patient becomes aware of the extent to which his or
her perceptions are based more on internalized representations than on what is occurring
now. The therapist’s help to structure cognitively what at first seemed chaotic also pro-
vides a containing function for the patient’s affects.
TFP fosters change by allowing this reactivation of unintegrated object relations
under controlled circumstances that inhibit the vicious circle of setting off reactions in
others that often occurs when the patient behaves with emotion dysregulation in the
“real” world (often eliciting the very responses that the patient fears from others). The
objective and nonjudgmental attitude of the therapist (therapeutic neutrality)
4
assists in
the reactivation of the internalized experience patterns, their containment, and their explo-
ration for new understandings. In this way TFP suspends the ordinary reaction of the
social environment in reaction to a disturbed patient and lets the patient live out his or her
internal representations in the treatment setting. Then, instead of attempting to deter these
behaviors by educative means, TFP draws the patient’s attention to the internal mental
representations behind them, with the goal of understanding, modifying, and integrating
them. It is believed that this focus on the activation of the patient’s internal world in the
therapeutic setting generally leads to a decrease in the level of acting out and chaos in
the patient’s life outside the therapy. The therapist is careful to monitor conditions in the
patient’s life at the same time as he or she focuses on what plays out in the therapy.
The treatment focus is on the current psychic reality,
5
based on the split structure
described, that is a fundamental motivational factor in the patient’s life. This structure is
4
By neutrality, we do not mean the stereotyped view of a silent, abstinent, bland, monotonous, indifferent, cold,
lacking in concern, nonactive, and nonintervening therapist. Defined this way, neutrality would most likely
be ineffective and even potentially be harmful to the patient’s treatment. Instead technical neutrality occurs
within a background of warmth and genuine human concern and involves the avoidance of taking sides when
discussing or exploring patients’ conflicts. Technical neutrality means that the therapist takes a nonjudgmental,
noncritical stance, which provides the patient with a sense of safety that allows exploration of previously
avoided memories, thoughts, and feelings and allows these features to emerge as fully as possible (including
those aspects that are most difficult for the patient to acknowledge or that the patient may be motivated to be
unaware of ).
5
The importance of understanding one’s psychic reality is becoming more apparent through neuroscience
research suggesting that the brain constructs what it perceives on the basis of past experience independently of
physical reality (Raz et al., 2005).
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 489
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
the focus of modification in the treatment and is the reason a fundamental mechanism of
change is calling the patient’s attention to the reactivation of split internal object relations
in the relationship with the therapist. Key to this process is the development of introspec-
tion or self-reflection: the patient’s increase in reflection is an essential mechanism of
change. The disorganization of the patient involves not only internal representations of
self and others, relationships with self and others, and predominance of primitive affects,
but also the processes that prevent reflection and full awareness. These primitive defen-
sive processes that characterize a split psychological structure erase and distort aware-
ness and thinking. BPD patients manifest a fragmentation and disconnection of thinking
with attacks on the linking of thoughts (Bion, 1967), so the very thought processes are
affected. Thought processes can be so powerfully distorted that affects, particularly the
most negative ones, are expressed in action without cognitive awareness of their exis-
tence. The affect is only in the action, not in cognitive awareness.
We have described how the TFP therapist observes the material in the patient’s pre-
sentation and actions, seeking to explore, with the patient, the underlying object relations
that motivate acting out and that constitute character structure. Mechanized, automated
behavior is understood in terms of the internal relationship image(s) that gave origin to it,
what attachment theorists call the internal working models. The concept of an internal-
ized relational scenario that encompasses an image of self in interaction with another and
that involves expectations of interpersonal transactions is common to object relations
dyads and to the internal working model of attachment. Given the primitive disorganiza-
tion of affects and of their connection with cognitive processes, the therapist’s helping
delineate these primitive scenarios helps to contain the affect and, at the same time,
facilitates the patient’s development of the cognitive capacity to represent affect. The
therapist assists the patient in connecting cognition with abnormally dissociated and dis-
organized affect .
Evidence for Mechanisms of Change: Reflective Functioning
as a Measure of Change
Both experimental research and psychotherapy research are useful for studying putative
mechanisms of change. In this section, we present research findings from our group
related to the hypothesized mechanisms of change explicated previously.
Treatment Contracting
One of the important tactics in TFP is the use of treatment contracts, which occurs before
the treatment begins. The function of the contract is to define the responsibilities of
patient and therapist, protecting the therapist’s ability to think clearly and reflect, provide
a safe place for the patient’s dynamics to unfold, set the stage for interpreting the meaning
of deviations from the contract as they occur later in therapy, and provide an organizing
therapeutic frame that permits therapy to become an anchor in the patient’s life. The
contract specifies the patient responsibilities, such as attendance and participation, pay-
ing of fees, and reporting of thoughts and feelings without censoring. The contract also
specifies the therapist’s responsibilities, including attending to the schedule; making every
effort to understand and, when useful, comment; clarifying the limits of his or her involve-
ment; and predicting threats to the treatment. Essentially, the treatment contract makes
the expectations of the therapy explicit (Clarkin, 1996). There is some controversy regard-
ing the value of treatment contracting. The American Psychiatric Association guidelines
490 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
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recommend that the therapist base the contract on issues of safety (Oldham et al., 2001).
Others (Sanderson, Swenson, & Bohus, 2002) have suggested that the evidence contra-
indicates their use and shows them to be ineffective (Kroll, 2000). However, Kroll’s
study (2000) was designed to determine the extent of no-suicide contracts (which was
found to be 57%) and although 42% of psychiatrists who used no-suicide contracts had
patients who either committed suicide or made a serious attempt, the design of the study
does not allow for assessment of the efficacy of no-suicide contracts. Other data suggest
the utility of contracting around self-destructive behavior and treatment threats (Clarkin
et al., 2001; Clarkin et al., 2005; Levy et al., 2005; Smith, Koenigsberg, Yeomans, Clar-
kin, & Selzer, 1995; Yeomans et al., 1994). For example, Yeomans and colleagues (Yeo-
mans et al., 1994) in a pre–post study of 36 BPD patients found that the quality of the
therapist’s presentation and handling of the patient’s response to the treatment contract
correlated with treatment alliance and the length of treatment. In addition, in our earlier
work (Smith et al., 1995), when we did not stress treatment contracting, our dropout rates
were high: 31% and 36% at the 3-month and 6-month marks of treatment. However, on
the basis of the findings of Yeomans and associates (1994), we further systematized and
stressed the importance of the treatment contract, and in later studies (Clarkin et al.,
2001, 2005; Levy et al., 2005) we found lower rates of dropout (19%, 13%, and 25%)
even over a year-long period of treatment. We suggest that these findings taken together
suggest that the treatment contract may have the desired effect of resulting in less dropout
and longer treatments. Future research will need to address the issue of treatment con-
tracts more directly.
Integration and Reflectiveness
As the patient progresses in the course of TFP from split-off contradictory self-states to
reflectiveness and integration, from action to reflection, this increase in reflectiveness
involves two specific levels. The first level entails an articulation and reflection of what
one feels in the moment. The patient increases in his or her ability to experience, articu-
late, and contain an affect and to contextualize it in the moment. This contextualizing of
affect in the moment can involve complex and accurate perceptions of both what one (the
patient) is experiencing and an understanding of what the other (e.g., the therapist) is
experiencing. This level of reflective functioning (RF) may correspond to the therapeutic
work of clarifying cognitively what the patient is experiencing in the moment.
A second, more advanced level of reflection is the ability to place the understanding
of momentary affect states of self and others into a general context of a relationship
between self and others across time. This level of RF reflects the establishment of an
integrated sense of self and others—a sense against which momentary perceptions can be
compared and put in perspective. We suggest this level of RF is achieved when the
therapist moves on from the stage of clarifying the patient’s momentary perceptions of
self and other to confronting the contrast and contradictions between different states
within the patient’s psyche and interpreting the reasons that these internal states have
remained split off. Borderline patients are quite sensitive, for example, to any behavior of
others (i.e., the therapist) that suggests disrespect, a personal slight, or abandonment.
Early in TFP, one patient experienced the therapist’s arriving 3 minutes late to a session
on a snowy morning as proof that the therapist did not like her and did not want to see her.
She reacted with rage and hatred in the moment. Gradually, she understood that the
“pure” quality of her rage and hatred coexisted, but did not mix, with moments of expe-
riencing her therapist as the “per fect” provider. She further understood that in her system,
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 491
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
negative affect could not come near the pure positive image of her therapist for fear that
it would overwhelm and destroy the latter. As this understanding fostered a growing
integration of her image of the therapist as someone who was well intentioned but not
perfect, and toward whom she could experience anger, the patient could place frustrating
interactions with him in the context of a relationship in which there were also support and
consistency from him, so that her reaction at any moment was no longer determined
solely by the event of the moment but was modulated by understanding of each specific
event in the context of a broader internal image.
In a recently completed randomized control trial (Clarkin et al., 2004) comparing
TFP, DBT, and supportive psychotherapy (SPT), only those patients randomized to the
TFP condition showed increases in attachment coherence and reflective function after 1
year of treatment (Levy et al., 2005). In order to assess integration and reflectiveness of
representation we used the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), a semistructured clinical
interview designed to elicit thoughts, feelings, and memories about early attachment
experiences and to assess the individual’s state of mind or internal working model with
regard to early attachment relationships. The interview consists of 20 questions asked in
a set order with standardized probes. Individuals are asked to describe their childhood
relationship with their parents, choosing five adjectives to describe each relationship and
supporting these descriptors with specific memories. To elicit attachment-related infor-
mation they are asked how their parents responded to them when they were in physical or
emotional distress (e.g., during times when they were upset, injured, and sick as chil-
dren). They are also asked about memories of separations, loss, experiences of rejection,
and times when they might have felt threatened, including, but not limited to, those
involving physical and sexual abuse. The interview requires that patients reflect on their
parents’ styles of parenting and that they consider how their childhood experiences with
their parents have influenced their life. The technique has been described as having the
effect of “surprising the unconscious” (George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985) and allowing
numerous opportunities for the interviewee to elaborate upon, contradict, or fail to sup-
port previous statements. The AAI is transcribed verbatim, and trained coders first score
the transcripts by using subscale ratings, which are then used to assign individuals to one
of five primary attachment classifications (secure/autonomous, dismissive, preoccupied,
unresolved, and cannot classify). The unresolved classification can be the primary clas-
sification or the secondary classification in addition to the assignment of an organized
style. The AAI is also scored with the Reflective Function Scale (Fonagy, Steele, Steele,
& Target, 1997), a 9-point scale, which ranges from 1 (negative RF, in which inter-
views are overly concrete, totally barren of mentalization, or grossly distor ting of the
mental states of others) to 9 (exceptional RF, in which interviews show unusually com-
plex, elaborate, or original reasoning about mental states). We believe that the coherence
of narrative score and the reflective functioning (RF) score obtained from the Adult
Attachment Interview are appropriate operationalized measures of the multilayered inte-
grative and reflective process that Kernberg describes. We believe that the reason for
change in coherence and reflective function in the TFP treatment, but not in the other two
treatments, is that TFP specifically focuses on the integration of disparate mental states
and representations. We hypothesize that the TFP therapists would make more bids or
appeals for RF. Of course, a question arises about the value of RF as a construct. Fonagy
and colleagues (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele, & Higgitt, 1991) found that RF mediated
the relationship between parental attachment security and infant attachment security in
Ainsworth’s Strange Situation laboratory procedure (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall,
1978). Slade and colleagues (Grienenberger, Kelly, & Slade, 2005; Slade, Grienenberger,
Bernbach, Levy, & Locker, 2005) found that a mother ’s RF mediates the relationship
492 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
between atypical maternal behaviors and attachment security in her infants. Fonagy and
colleagues (Fonagy et al., 1996) found that among psychiatric patients reporting abuse,
those who scored low on RF were more likely to be diagnosed with BPD compared to
those who were abused but scored high on RF. However, the importance of these findings
is clouded by the relative paucity of research on RF. Certainly RF has been established as
an impor tant construct for thinking about parenting behavior; however, less is known
about its broader significance. Establishing the validity of the concept is an important
step to providing empirical support for the psychoanalytic notion of structural change as
a central aspect of change in psychotherapy. Later we present data on the validity of the
RF construct by relating it to external measures of neurocognitive functioning, specifi-
cally impulsivity and concept formation as measured by the Continuous Performance
Task and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, respectively.
Reflectiveness, Coherence, and Measures of Affect Regulation. We have recently
examined the relationship between reflective function scores and measures of affect reg-
ulation, including neurocognitive measures known to tap affect regulation (Levy et al.,
2005). Three samples of participants were used in the study: patients diagnosed with
BPD (N 24), a nonclinical comparison group matched to the patient group in terms of
impulsivity and negative affect, and a “comparison” group who had normal levels on
these indices. Comparison participants were excluded from the study if they met criteria
for any Axis II personality disorder. These samples were evaluated in terms of RF, scored
from the Adult Attachment Interview, and computer-based neurocognitive tasks, the Con-
tinuous Performance Task (CPT) and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). RF was
unrelated to gender, ethnicity, age, or intelligence quotient (IQ).
Impulsivity. On the CPT, RF was not correlated with d9, a measure of sustained atten-
tion. However, there was a significant inverse relationship between RF and b, a measure
of impulsivity. These findings were similar in the BPD and the comparison samples.
Given that sustained attention was maintained, the relationship between RF and impul-
sivity is likely not a function of poor attention.
Concept Formation. On the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, there was no relationship
between RF and nonperseverative errors, categories completed, or trials needed to com-
plete the task. However, there was a significant inverse relationship between RF and both
perseverative errors (i.e., when a participant persists with the wrong answer despite feed-
back that it is incorrect) and failure to maintain the set (i.e., when a participant changes a
correct answer to an incorrect response despite feedback that the initial answer was cor-
rect). Higher RF was correlated with fewer errors of both types. These findings were
significant in both the BPD and comparison samples. Perseverative errors are not uncom-
mon and are characteristic of a number of other psychiatric conditions. Failure to main-
tain the set is a relatively rare response, and a review of the literature suggests that this
type of error is characteristic of only one other psychiatric condition, schizotypy. The
literature regarding schizotypes suggests that they make these types of errors because of
attentional problems (Lenzenweger, personal communication, March 17, 2004). Given
that sustained attention was maintained on the CPT, the relationship between RF and
failure to maintain the set is likely not a function of poor attention. We suggest that the
relationship is a function of a lack of contingency in the mind of patients who have BPD.
We believe that this lack of contingency is a function of fluctuating mental states and
unintegrated representations of experience.
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 493
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
Attention Networks. We (Posner et al., 2002) examined the attentional control
system in more detail by utilizing the Attentional Network Task (ANT), developed by
Posner and colleagues (Fan, McCandliss, Sommer, Raz, & Posner, 2002). Participants
were 39 patients who had BPD, 20 control subjects who were matched to the patients in
having very low self-reported effor tful control and very high negative emotionality, and
30 control subjects who were average in these two temperamental functions. In the ANT,
participants are to determine whether the central arrow in the target display points left or
right. Before the target either no cue, a double cue, a single cue at the location of the
upcoming target, or a single central cue is given. These three conditions are used to assess
the efficiency of each network. Each subject was given a total of 256 trials—one-fourth
in each of the four cue conditions. Each trial began with either no cue or one of the three
cues. The cue was followed after a variable interval with a mean of 1 second by either a
congruent, incongruent, or neutral target with equal frequency. Three aspects of attention
are assessed: alerting, orientating, and conflict. Subtraction of the double-cue from the
no-cue condition RTs provides a measure of the ability of subjects to maintain alertness
on trials in which they are not cued and to take advantage of warning signal. Subtracting
RTs to a cue at the target location (either above or below fixation) from a central cue
(where no targets are ever presented) provides information on the skill of orienting to the
target location. Finally by subtracting the congruent RTs from the incongruent RTs we
have a measure of the ability of subjects to resolve conflict introduced by the flankers
when they are in the opposite direction from the target. We found that the patients exhib-
ited significantly greater difficulty in their ability to resolve conflict among stimulus
dimensions in a purely cognitive task than did average control subjects. Temperamental
control subjects also had elevated conflict scores, although they were not significantly
different from those of the average control subjects. No other attentional network appeared
to be impaired in these patients. Consistently with the idea of a constitutional bias, we
conclude that temperament may play a role in the disorder, possibly in predisposing
children to acquire it, but some other environmental or temperament factor must be
involved. We also have some preliminary data suggesting that RF is correlated with the
conflict score but not the alerting or orienting score.
Affect. Kernberg’s (1984) concept of identity consolidation, which is characterized
by the integration of mental representations of self, others, and affective experience, also
appears to be strongly related to patterns of affect and self-regulation. Using Blatt’s
Object Representation Inventory, Levy (2000) found that less differentiated and inte-
grated representations of self and other were significantly related to the self-reported use
of more maladaptive strategies (e.g., self-injurious behaviors, promiscuous sex, illicit
drug use, and violent fantasies and behaviors) to regulate negative affective states.
These findings taken together suggest, as Kernberg and Fonagy contend, that deficits
in reflective function may result in difficulties with impulsivity and affective instability.
Summary and Conclusions
TFP, similarly to most prominent theories of borderline personality disorder, hypoth-
esizes an interaction between a constitutional emotional vulnerability and environmental
experiences. The exact nature of the constitutional vulnerability can vary but is generally
thought to involve an abundance of negative affect, particularly aggression, in ratio to
positive affect. Research has shown that positive affect acts as a buffer to negative expe-
riences, including one’s own internal negative mental states (Fredrickson, 1998). Without
the buffer of positive affect, negative affect colors the perceptions of interactions and
494 Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2006
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
distorts internal representations. Despite suppor t from neurobiological and social person-
ality research, some have criticized Kernberg’s hypothesis of a constitutional aspect of
BPD. Some have argued that the negative affect and aggression seen in BPD patients are
solely the result of real traumatic experiences. Although a large and significant portion of
patients who have borderline personality disorder have experienced varying types of
traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse, which may result in increased levels
of aggression, many, and in some samples most, BPD patients have not experienced such
traumatic events. In addition, many other disorders are characterized by equivalent types
and levels of abuse but do not show the same symptom pattern or pervasive disruptions
that are seen in BPD. Thus, although a significant proportion of BPD patients may have
achieved their level of anger because of real experience, we need a theory that is broader
than the simple “abuse equals aggression in BPD.” Within psychoanalytic circles, some
have criticized Kernberg’s focus on constitutional factors, suggesting that they are not
necessary for his conceptualization of BPD but instead are a vestige of his loyalty to
Freudian theory (e.g., Mitchell, 1988). These critics ignore the growing evidence from
neuroscience suggesting endogenous temperamental inputs that a child (and by exten-
sion, parents) must grapple with and metabolize. Nevertheless, there are probably mul-
tiple pathways for development of BPD, one of which involves serious, prolonged trauma,
particularly sexual abuse, that, regardless of constitutional factors, would overwhelm
almost anyone’s capacity to integrate the experience (Pynoos, 1993). Other pathways
might include disruptions in psychological coherence resulting from high levels of aggres-
sion that cannot be metabolized normally.
Similar to Kernberg, Bateman and Fonagy contend that emotional instability in bor-
derline personality disorder is secondary to unstable internal states. Bateman and Fonagy
contend that either a deficiency or an inhibition of the capacity to mentalize leads to
instability in one’s sense of self. Hence, the putative mechanism of change within patients
who have BPD, according to Bateman and Fonagy, is an increase in the capacity to
mentalize. This capacity is thought to increase emotional stability in BPD patients by
allowing them to shift their attention when experiencing negative emotional states and to
find more contextualized meaning in their own and other people’s behavior. Both Bate-
man and Fonagy (2003) and Kernberg (1984) hypothesize this capacity is a developmen-
tal achievement that occurs in the context of a secure attachment relationship to a caregiver,
and that it is integrally related to one’s sense of self. Consistently with the hypothesis of
a relation between a deficit in mentalization and borderline pathology, there is now empir-
ical evidence to suggest that mentalization is an important mechanism of change within
BPD patients who are treated with TFP (Levy et al., 2005).
The concept of mindfulness, which Linehan (1993) integrated into DBT treatment, bears
a striking similarity to Bateman and Fonagy’s (2003) concept of mentalization and, as can
mentalization, can be seen as a product of integrated representations (Levy, 2004). Mind-
fulness is becoming increasingly central in Linehan’s conceptualization of the treatment of
BPD ( Brodsky & Stanley, 2002; Dimidjian & Linehan, 2003; Robins, 2002). Mindfulness
involves the ability to observe, reflect, and describe emotional states while developing focused
attention, and it is thought to help BPD patients to develop perspective and tolerate and reg-
ulate negative affective experiences without being overwhelmed.According to Linehan, and
similarly to Kernberg’s conceptualization, the patient begins to understand a separation
between the observer and the observed, and thoughts are not taken as literally “true” and to
be acted on. Although there are subtle differences, the concepts of mindfulness, mental-
ization, and integrated representation share impor tant conceptual overlaps. Fonagy (Fon-
agy et al., 1997) notes that RF is intimately related to the representation of the self
(Fonagy & Target, 1995, 1996; Target & Fonagy, 1996).
Mechanisms of Change in BPD 495
Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI 10.1002/jclp
In sum, we have been able to show that during the course of TFP, consistently with
hypotheses, there are changes in integration and reflectiveness, as assessed by the coherence
and reflective function scores on the AAI, respectively. These changes are specific to TFP
and parallel significant changes in outcome (Clarkin et al., 2005). Future research will
examine in-therapy therapists’ technique as it relates to changes in coherence and RF
(Levy, 2005).
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    • "326). In line with Kleinian treatment technique, Kernberg's Transference Focused Psychotherapy (Clarkin et al. 2014) focusses on the interpretation of the transference, but adds a hierarchy of " dangers " (e.g., suicidal ideation, self-harm) that – if present – have to be given priority. These dangers are understood as indicators of negative affect, and they are interpreted in the context of the transference. "
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2016
    • "Thus interested practitioners should consult the available training resources , clinical literature, and empirical literature reviewed here. Additionally, ethical and expert assessment and treatment of all PDs requires knowledge of clinical theories of personality pathology (e.g., narcissism) and ideally specialized training or supervision in empirically supported interventions like TFP (Yeomans et al., 2015) and dialectical behavior therapy (Lungu & Linehan, 2016). We encourage practitioners to acquire the appropriate assessment and therapeutic training, take advantage of the free availability of AMPD assessment measures, and employ the AMPD in their clinical practices. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The DSM–5 Section III alternative model for personality disorders (AMPD) distinguishes general personality impairment from trait-based descriptions of personality disorder expression. The inclusion of the AMPD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM–5) provides a scaffold for classification and diagnosis of personality pathology that merits further efforts to improve upon its assessment framework. Recent empirical work focuses on evaluating the reliability and validity of the Level of Personality Functioning Scale and the Personality Inventory for the DSM–5, demonstrating the structural and predictive distinctiveness of measures of pathological personality traits and impairment, evaluating practitioner acceptance and clinical utility, and examining associations with other important outcomes. To complement the increased research on the AMPD, this article focuses on the relevance of distinguishing levels of personality functioning and pathological personality traits in clinical practice. We present three cases of patients exhibiting pathological narcissism that vary in terms of severity of general personality dysfunction and prominent pathological personality traits assessed through the DSM–5 AMPD. We demonstrate that the DSM–5 AMPD provides the clinician with diagnostic criteria that exhibit greater fidelity with the varied presentations of pathological narcissism seen in clinical practice. We conclude that the DSM–5 AMPD provides a useful framework for incorporating different clinical presentations of narcissistic grandiosity, as well as characteristics of narcissistic vulnerability into the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. Finally, we suggest that the clinical relevance of pathological traits in psychotherapy differs as a function of severity of personality impairment.
    Article · Jun 2016
    • "In addition, our findings suggest that the underlying physiological responses to stress among patients with BPD are not fully captured by subjective reporting of their emotional response, and thereby highlight the complexity of emotional dysregulation to psychosocial demands in patients with BPD versus CPD. A substantial proportion of CPD patients are known to function psychosocially at a qualitatively higher level than BPD patients (Yeomans et al., 2015). In our study, we found that CPD patients, in contrast with BPD patients, have a distinct psychophysiological responsivity to psychosocial stress, indicating a potentially distinct underlying biology. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Background: Maladaptive emotional control is a defining feature of personality disorders. Yet little is known about the underlying physiological dynamics of emotional reactivity to psychosocial stress across distinct personality disorders. The current study compared subjective emotional responses with autonomic nervous system and HPA axis physiological responses to psychosocial stress in women with cluster C personality disorder (CPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Methods: Subjective mood ratings, salivary cortisol, heart rate (HR), and skin conductance level (SCL) were assessed before, during, and after exposure to a standardized psychosocial stress paradigm (Trier Social Stress Test, TSST) in 26 women with BPD, 20 women with CPD, and 35 healthy female controls. Subjects were free of any medication including hormonal contraceptives, had a regular menstrual cycle, and were tested during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. Results: Both CPD and BPD patients reported a similar burden of subjective mood disturbance. However, only BPD patients demonstrated reduced baseline cortisol levels with a blunted cortisol and HR reactivity to the TSST. In addition, BPD patients exhibited a generalized increase of SCL. No significant differences in baseline or TSST reactivity of cortisol, HR, or SCL were observed between CPD patients and healthy controls. Conclusion: These findings indicate that patients with BPD have significant alterations in their physiological stress reactivity, which is notably distinct from patients with CPD and those of healthy controls.
    Article · Jun 2016
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