Can BPD Be Cured?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) cannot be cured, and anyone who enters treatment looking for a quick and easy fix is bound to be disappointed. However, with treatment the symptoms of BPD can be effectively managed, monitored, and ultimately reduced in intensity, or entirely eliminated. A firm commitment to recovery is absolutely vital for BPD sufferers, who can find lasting wellness if they stay faithful to their treatment regimens and remain on guard against any signs of relapse.
Recovering from Mental Health Disorders
Many physical health problems can be cured by time, immune system activity, or medical treatment. But mental health disorders are chronic conditions that remain lurking in the background even when their symptoms are no longer in evidence. During those times it may seem like the person diagnosed has been cured, but in fact relapse could occur at any moment.
The word ‘cure’ is seldom used in connection with mental health disorders, because the underlying brain mechanisms responsible for mental illness are at least partially irreversible. Even if a mental health disorder has been dormant for an extended period, under certain circumstances it can become active again and the illness can return, often with a vengeance.
People can recover from episodes or periods of mental illness, and they can learn to cope with any symptoms that might linger in less severe form. But recovery must remain an ongoing process, and they should never be lulled into a false sense of security, no matter how long they’ve been symptom-free.
Borderline Personality Disorder and its Responsiveness to Treatment
Borderline personality disorder is no different than any other type of mental health disorder. There is no cure for borderline personality disorder, and no matter how successful treatment might be the risk of BPD symptoms returning is real and cannot be ignored.
Nevertheless, the road to recovery following treatment for borderline personality disorder is relatively straightforward. BPD symptoms tend to peak in young adulthood and gradually fade over time, to the point where they’re no longer a feature of daily life. When treatment is provided the process of age-related decline in BPD intensity is quickened and the chances of enduring recovery are excellent.
In one recent study involving people who were hospitalized for borderline personality disorder and then released, 70 percent of participants no longer met the criteria for BPD at some point during the following six years. Among this group, 94 percent suffered no recurrence of their conditions and were able to maintain their symptom-free status indefinitely.
These results agree with the findings of two other borderline personality disorder research projects, both of which were first discussed in peer-reviewed medical journals in 2005.
In the first of these studies, called the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study (CLPS), several hundred patients diagnosed with personality disorders were tracked over a period of 10 years as they participated in outpatient recovery programs. Among BPD sufferers, 85 percent experienced extended symptom-free periods lasting 12 months or longer, and out of this group only 11 percent suffered any type of relapse. This means about 77 percent of individuals receiving treatment for BPD stopped having symptoms altogether, and this high rate of recovery was easily the best out of the various personality disorders included in the research project.
The second of these studies was sponsored by the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. This open-ended initiative monitored the ongoing progress of almost 300 BPD patients who were hospitalized in that facility and then released. They found that after 16 years, 99 percent of BPD patients treated at the McLean facility had achieved symptom-free periods of two years or longer, and 78 percent had extended that period to at least eight years. Among the latter group relapse rates were only 10 percent, again showing that continuing freedom from BPD symptoms was an achievable goal for most.
These promising statistics about recovery do not imply that hospitalization or outpatient treatment (or any other type of treatment, for that matter) can cure borderline personality disorder. But they do reveal that borderline personality is highly amenable to treatment and that sufferers do not have to remain trapped by their emotional turmoil forever. Time plus treatment are a potent anti-BPD combination, and they can work wonders in the lives of people diagnosed with this disruptive and difficult illness.
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The Consequences of BPD
While recovery from borderline personality disorder is possible, treatment services should be provided as soon as possible after a diagnosis has been made, since those who suffer from the disorder can be heavily impacted by its overwhelming symptoms.
How heavily impacted? Here are some numbers that tell the story:
- As many as 90 percent of people with BPD will engage in self-harming behavior (cutting, burning, scratching their skin until it bleeds, etc.).
- Twenty percent of all psychiatric hospitalizations will be for borderline personality disorder.
- Seventy-eight percent of BPD sufferers will develop a drug or alcohol problem at some point in their lives.
- Up to 79 percent of BPD sufferers will attempt suicide at least once.
- Ten percent of individuals with BPD will eventually take their own lives.
Statistics like these show the devastating effect BPD can have on human beings when it is not treated in time, or when it isn’t treated at all.
Creating an Effective Borderline Personality Treatment Regimen
Treatment programs for BPD will be extensive, comprehensive, and multi-varied, and should include a combination of:
- Psychotherapy. There are several types of therapy that have been shown to work well in the treatment of borderline personality disorder. They include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mentalization-based therapy (MBT), transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), schema-focused therapy (SFT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
- Medication. Two types of drugs are especially recommended. Mood stabilizers have proven effective against anger and impulse-control issues in BPD sufferers, while antipsychotics can help reduce the intensity of cognitive and perceptual problems. Other drugs, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, may be prescribed if co-occurring disorders are present.
- Life skills and education classes. Individuals with BPD can benefit from techniques and coping skills that will help them manage their symptoms on their own. BPD sufferers who understand the specifics of their illness are better prepared to recognize symptoms in the early stages, allowing them to take action before the situation escalates.
- Holistic mind-body healing techniques. Holistic methods for achieving wellness are ideal for stress reduction and for developing self-awareness, which is critical for BPD sufferers learning to moderate their reactions to their symptoms. BPD robs people of their self-control and ability to manage their emotions, but activities like meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, acupuncture, massage, music therapy, art therapy, fitness programs, and wilderness adventures can help them regain their focus, self-composure, and self-confidence.
- Additional treatment for co-occurring disorders. The vast majority of individuals with BPD will suffer from co-occurring conditions at some point in their lives. If signs of mood disorders, substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, or other personality disorders are present when BPD is diagnosed, they will need to be treated simultaneously in a residential treatment facility that offers integrated rehab services for multiple disorders.
Much of the treatment received by BPD sufferers will take place on an outpatient basis. But in the early stages of recovery, inpatient services at a residential treatment center may be necessary to help individuals with BPD steer their recovery onto a sustainable path.
The severity of borderline personality disorder symptoms, combined with the frequent presence of other serious mental health conditions, often calls for more intensive care at the outset of the treatment period, when recovery is new and patients are still a long way from health and wellness.
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Taking Responsibility for Borderline Personality Disorder
Staying symptom-free is a realistic goal for people with BPD. But even if this milestone is reached, it is not the same thing as being cured. There is no cure for borderline personality disorder, and no matter how long someone has experienced freedom from its intense symptoms the possibility of relapse is always there.
Nevertheless, there is an excellent chance that recovery can last indefinitely and even be permanent, if BPD sufferers remain diligent in their commitments to their ongoing outpatient therapy programs, take their medications faithfully and as prescribed, and continue to monitor their own progress and ask for help the moment they experience any hint of a relapse.
In short, borderline personality disorder sufferers must take full responsibility for their health and recovery, and if they do so their worst BPD symptoms may be relegated to the past. They will not be cured in the normal sense of the word, but they will regain control of their lives and their destinies, and that in itself is a remarkable achievement.