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Mental Disorders

Types of Treatment for Personality Disorders

Simone Hoermann, Ph.D., Corinne E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Previously in this article we reviewed several prevailing theories regarding the development of personality disorders.  We explained that these theories offer a valuable tool for understanding how personality disorders are thought to result from damage to the framework of the mind's architecture. In order to explain why there are so many different theories regarding the mind's architecture, we drew an analogy between the mind and a house. We suggested these different psychological theories are analogous to the various styles of architecture that are used to build a house, from a modern architectural style to a traditional architectural style. Although there are differences between these architectural styles, the construction of that architecture still yields the framework of a house. In the same way, there are various ways to conceive of the mind's architecture but the construction of that architecture still yields the framework of a mind.

This same architectural analogy is useful to help us to understand the various treatments for personality disorder. Just as some architects prefer modern architecture while others prefer a more traditional style, mental health professionals have various stylistic preferences. These various "styles" of therapy result from different schools of thought within the psychological profession. In the same way that there are different schools of architecture (some touting the benefits of modern design while others adhere to the traditional) the structural problems of the mind are conceived differently. Yet, each school of thought is still attempting to describe the same thing; i.e., the way unhealthy personalities are "constructed." Each theory attempts to describe and identify the nature of the structural deformity. From that understanding, flow ideas about how to repair it.  Just as there are several effective ways to repair a leaky pipe beneath the flooring of a house, there are several different (yet effective) methods of repairing the damaged structures of the mind.

The effective treatments listed in the following documents may differ in the approach used to make these repairs. Nonetheless, they each emphasize a person's issues in the present and strive to resolve these difficulties without a specific focus on the origins of these problems.  While the theories behind these therapies acknowledge that previous experiences (particularly early childhood experiences) contribute the development of a personality disorder, the focus of treatment is not to understand the reasons, or the origins of these problems. Rather, the goal is to improve people's current level of functioning by addressing their present-day struggles and difficulties.  It has become increasing clear that talking about the past does not necessarily produce the positive behavioral changes that are necessary for people to develop a meaningful and productive life in the present.