Efficacy of Psychotherapies for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis | Psychiatry | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
April 2017

Efficacy of Psychotherapies for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • 2Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
  • 3Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford, Stanford University, Stanford, California
  • 4Section of Psychiatry, Department of Neuroscience, Biomedicine and Movement Sciences, University of Verona, Verona, Italy
  • 5Department of Clinical Psychology, Amsterdam Public Health Research Institute, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(4):319-328. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.4287
Key Points

Question  What is the efficacy of psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder?

Findings  In this systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, outcomes of psychotherapies (most notably dialectical behavior therapy and psychodynamic approaches) significantly improved borderline-relevant outcomes (symptoms, self-harm, and suicide) compared with control interventions. However, differences dissipated in well-designed and implemented trials or if the control group was balanced for manualization of treatment or the involvement of the study team in treatment.

Meaning  Psychotherapies specifically designed for borderline personality disorder have significant yet modest benefits over treatment as usual, and future independent and well-conducted trials are needed to clarify the stability and practical relevance of their effects.


Importance  Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a debilitating condition, but several psychotherapies are considered effective.

Objective  To conduct an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials to assess the efficacy of psychotherapies for BPD populations.

Data Sources  Search terms were combined for borderline personality and randomized trials in PubMed, PsycINFO, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (from database inception to November 2015), as well as the reference lists of earlier meta-analyses.

Study Selection  Included were randomized clinical trials of adults with diagnosed BPD randomized to psychotherapy exclusively or to a control intervention. Study selection differentiated stand-alone designs (in which an independent psychotherapy was compared with control interventions) from add-on designs (in which an experimental intervention added to usual treatment was compared with usual treatment alone).

Data Extraction and Synthesis  Data extraction coded characteristics of trials, participants, and interventions and assessed risk of bias using 4 domains of the Cochrane Collaboration Risk of Bias tool (independent extraction by 2 assessors). Outcomes were pooled using a random-effects model. Subgroup and meta-regression analyses were conducted.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Standardized mean differences (Hedges g) were calculated using all outcomes reported in the trials for borderline symptoms, self-harm, suicide, health service use, and general psychopathology at posttest and follow-up. Differential treatment retention at posttest was analyzed, reporting odds ratios.

Results  Thirty-three trials (2256 participants) were included. For borderline-relevant outcomes combined (symptoms, self-harm, and suicide) at posttest, the investigated psychotherapies were moderately more effective than control interventions in stand-alone designs (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.14-0.51) and add-on designs (g = 0.40; 95% CI, 0.15-0.65). Results were similar for other outcomes, including stand-alone designs: self-harm (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.09-0.54), suicide (g = 0.44; 95% CI, 0.15-0.74), health service use (g = 0.40; 95% CI, 0.22-0.58), and general psychopathology (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.09-0.55), with no differences between design types. There were no significant differences in the odds ratios for treatment retention (1.32; 95% CI, 0.87-2.00 for stand-alone designs and 1.01; 95% CI, 0.55-1.87 for add-on designs). Thirteen trials reported borderline-relevant outcomes at follow-up (g = 0.45; 95% CI, 0.15-0.75). Dialectical behavior therapy (g = 0.34; 95% CI, 0.15-0.53) and psychodynamic approaches (g = 0.41; 95% CI, 0.12-0.69) were the only types of psychotherapies more effective than control interventions. Risk of bias was a significant moderator in subgroup and meta-regression analyses (slope β = −0.16; 95% CI, −0.29 to −0.03; P = .02). Publication bias was persistent, particularly for follow-up.

Conclusions and Relevance  Psychotherapies, most notably dialectical behavior therapy and psychodynamic approaches, are effective for borderline symptoms and related problems. Nonetheless, effects are small, inflated by risk of bias and publication bias, and particularly unstable at follow-up.