Table of Contents

Personality Disorder Diagnosis

Diagnosing personality disorders involves a thorough clinical assessment conducted by a qualified mental health professional, typically a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed therapist. It is essential to use a multi-dimensional approach to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. There is no single tool or test that can definitively diagnose all types of personality disorders on its own.

The diagnostic process for personality disorders includes the following key elements:

  1. Clinical Interview: A detailed clinical interview is conducted to gather information about the individual’s medical history, psychiatric symptoms, personal background, and current functioning. This allows the clinician to understand the individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in various contexts.
  2. Diagnostic Criteria: The clinician uses the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Each personality disorder has specific diagnostic criteria that must be met for a formal diagnosis.
  3. Behavioral Observation: The clinician may observe the individual’s behavior and interpersonal interactions during the assessment to gain insights into their personality traits and relational patterns.
  4. Psychological Testing: While no single test can diagnose personality disorders, psychological assessments can provide additional information about an individual’s personality traits, emotional experiences, and possible psychopathology. Tests like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI), or Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) are some examples of such tools. LifeStance offers a wide range of psychological assessments to diagnose personality disorders.
  5. Collateral Information: The clinician may seek information from family members, close friends, or other significant individuals in the person’s life to gain a more comprehensive perspective on the individual’s personality and behavior.
  6. Duration and Stability of Symptoms: The clinician considers the duration and consistency of the individual’s problematic personality traits, as personality disorders are characterized by enduring patterns of behavior that are stable over time.
  7. Cultural Considerations: The clinician takes into account cultural factors that may influence the individual’s personality expression, ensuring a culturally sensitive diagnosis. Different cultures may have distinct norms regarding emotional expression, communication styles, and social behavior. What might be considered normal or typical in one culture may be seen as unusual or disordered in another. Professionals must be cautious not to pathologize behaviors that are culturally appropriate but may be perceived differently from their own cultural perspective.

The process of diagnosing different types of personality disorders may have some differences, mainly in terms of the specific criteria outlined in the DSM for each disorder and the presentation of symptoms. For instance, a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) requires a different set of criteria compared to a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Given the complexity and variability of personality disorders, it is essential to use a comprehensive approach to diagnosis, involving multiple assessment methods.

Diagnostic Criteria

The diagnostic criteria for personality disorders are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM provides a set of specific criteria for each personality disorder, used by mental health professionals to make a diagnosis. The DSM-5 (fifth edition) includes the following ten specific personality disorders broken down by Clusters (Suspicious, Emotional & Impulsive, Anxious).

It’s important to note that diagnosing personality disorders can be complex due to the overlapping and co-occurring symptoms of different disorders. Additionally, the DSM-5 introduces a dimensional approach to assessing personality disorders, which considers both categorical diagnosis (whether the individual meets specific criteria for a particular disorder) and assessing levels of personality functioning and specific trait domains.

Personality Disorders Treatment Options for Cluster A (Suspicious)

Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by odd or eccentric behaviors and thought patterns. The three personality disorders classified as suspicious in cluster A are:

Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD): People with paranoid personality disorder have a pervasive distrust and suspicion of others, believing that others are trying to harm, deceive, or exploit them. They are often hypervigilant, have difficulty trusting others, and may interpret innocent actions as malevolent.

Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD): Individuals with schizoid personality disorder tend to be emotionally detached and have little interest in forming close relationships. They often prefer solitary activities and have limited emotional expression.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder (STPD): People with schizotypal personality disorder display eccentric behaviors, beliefs, and thought patterns. They may have unusual beliefs or magical thinking, experience social anxiety, and have difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships.

Treatment options for personality disorders classified as “suspicious” (Cluster A) primarily involve psychotherapy, as there are no specific medications approved for treating these personality disorders. The main goal of therapy is to help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms, improve social functioning, and manage their symptoms effectively. Some common treatments include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy as it helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and maladaptive behaviors. It can be particularly useful for addressing paranoid beliefs and social anxiety in individuals with paranoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.

Psychodynamic Therapy is often used as it focuses on exploring unconscious thoughts and emotions to gain insight into how past experiences may be influencing present behaviors and beliefs. Psychodynamic therapy can be beneficial for individuals with Cluster A personality disorders to better understand their emotional responses and interpersonal difficulties.

Group Therapy can provide a supportive environment for individuals with Cluster A personality disorders to practice social skills, share experiences, and receive feedback from peers.

In some cases, Family Therapy can be helpful to improve communication and understanding within the family system, particularly for individuals with Paranoid Personality Disorder.

While Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was initially developed for Borderline Personality Disorder (Cluster B), some aspects of DBT, such as emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness skills, may be adapted to address certain symptoms present in Cluster A personality disorders.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies techniques such as mindfulness and acceptance can help individuals with cluster A personality disorders become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, promoting emotional regulation and reducing distress.

Personality Disorders Treatment Options for Cluster B (Emotional and Impulsive)

Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by significant emotional reactivity and difficulty regulating emotions, leading to impulsive and often maladaptive behaviors. Individuals with these disorders may struggle with interpersonal relationships, have a history of unstable and intense relationships, and experience difficulties in maintaining boundaries.

It’s important to note that personality disorders are enduring patterns of behavior and are typically diagnosed in adulthood, although their roots may be traced back to adolescence or earlier. Additionally, individuals with these personality disorders may experience distress and impairment in various areas of life, including work, social relationships, and overall well-being. The specific personality disorders in this cluster include:

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Individuals with BPD often struggle with intense emotions, unstable self-image, and turbulent interpersonal relationships. They may engage in impulsive behaviors, such as self-harm or substance abuse, and experience chronic feelings of emptiness and fear of abandonment.

Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD): People with HPD seek attention and validation from others and may exhibit overly dramatic or attention-seeking behavior. They have a strong need for approval and may use their physical appearance or emotions to gain attention.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): Individuals with NPD have an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for admiration. They may lack empathy for others and have an excessive preoccupation with their own achievements and fantasies of success.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD): People with ASPD have a disregard for the rights and feelings of others. They may engage in deceitful, manipulative, and exploitative behaviors without remorse. Impulsivity, aggression, and a history of legal problems are common.

Treatment for personality disorders in Cluster B, particularly the emotional and impulsive types, usually involves psychotherapy as the primary intervention. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and other evidence-based therapies are commonly used to address emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and interpersonal difficulties. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms, such as mood instability or anxiety, although medication does not treat the personality disorder itself. Treatment is often challenging and requires ongoing commitment, but with appropriate support and interventions, individuals with these personality disorders can experience improvement in their emotional regulation and interpersonal functioning.

Personality Disorders Treatment Options for Cluster C (Anxious)

Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by chronic and pervasive feelings of anxiety and fear, which often lead to avoidance and reliance on others for support and decision-making. Individuals with these disorders may have difficulty asserting themselves, setting boundaries, and engaging in social situations due to their heightened sensitivity to criticism and rejection. The specific personality disorders in this cluster include:

Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD): Individuals with AvPD have a deep-seated fear of rejection, criticism, and disapproval, which leads them to avoid social situations and interpersonal relationships. They often have feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD): People with DPD have an excessive need to be taken care of by others. They fear being alone and struggle to make decisions without the reassurance and approval of others. They may become submissive and cling to relationships, even if they are unhealthy.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD): Individuals with OCPD are preoccupied with rules, order, and perfectionism. They have an intense need for control and struggle with flexibility and openness to new ideas. This is different from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is an anxiety disorder, but shares some similarities in terms of obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors.

Treatment for personality disorders in Cluster C, particularly the anxious types, often involves psychotherapy as the primary intervention. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and other evidence-based therapies are commonly used to address avoidance behaviors, improve self-esteem, and reduce anxiety and fear. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, although medication does not treat the personality disorder itself. Treatment is often challenging and requires ongoing commitment, but with appropriate support and interventions, individuals with these personality disorders can experience improvement in their anxiety levels and overall functioning.

If you’re looking for a therapist near you who specializes in Personality Disorders treatment therapies like CBD, DBD, Exposure therapy, and others mentioned here, select the desired type of therapy in Services provided drop-down box in our licensed therapist directory.

Medication Treatment Options for Personality Disorders

Medication management is not the primary treatment for Personality Disorders, as they are primarily considered to be long-standing patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions that typically require Psychotherapy as the main form of intervention. However, medication may be used to address specific symptoms or comorbid conditions that individuals with personality disorders may experience. It’s important to note that medication does not treat the personality disorder itself but can help manage associated symptoms.

However, if individuals with these disorders experience symptoms like anxiety or depression, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to manage these symptoms.

For example, individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder may receive medications to manage mood swings, depression, or anxiety.

At LifeStance Health we offer a range of mental health services to help you manage personality disorders, including medication management and psychotherapy. Our psychiatrists who specialize in Personality Disorders offer in-person and remote appointments.