What Makes a Good Borderline Personality Disorder Therapist?
I’ve been thinking about what makes a good borderline personality disorder (BPD) therapist lately. I feel very fortunate for the relationship I’ve built with my therapist while recovering from borderline personality disorder. Therapy hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve been fortunate to be paired up with some really wonderful therapists over the years. Something I've learned is this: not all therapists are equally equipped to work with BPD. Today, I have one of the healthiest, and most fun and dynamic relationships with my therapist I've ever had. I’ve been thinking: what traits does an effective borderline personality disorder therapist possess? What qualities set one BPD therapist apart from another?
(Just a quick disclaimer: this is not a piece about what type of therapy you should undergo to treat your borderline personality disorder. I will write about that another day. While dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is often regarded as the best way to treat BPD, DBT actually hasn’t been a big part of my recovery journey, although I have tried it. I’ve ended up working more with psychodynamic and holist therapists, which has really worked well for me. All of this to say: that’s a different issue and I'm focusing more on the human and personal qualities today that transcend therapeutic paradigms.
Qualities of My Borderline Personality Disorder Therapist
Since we struggle with interpersonal relationships, those of us with BPD can also find healing within the context of our relationships with our borderline personality disorder therapist. I’ll share about some of the traits I’ve found therapists to possess that make them effective in working with my borderline personality disorder. The traits include:
- Experience in working with borderline personality disorder: This might seem obvious but it's more crucial than you think. Conflict will inevitably strike in any relationship between someone with BPD and her therapist. This is not only expected, it is good. When the conflict happens, it is there that there is room for the greatest healing and the possibility for a new experience with resolution. Therapists experienced with BPD know this, expect this, and have confidence in their ability to navigate these murky waters. I'd make the suggestion to ask your therapist if he or she has experience with BPD ("How to Find a Therapist Who's Right for You"). And don't take it personally if they refer you elsewhere. Trust me, it's a good thing. You want someone that knows what he or she is doing.
- An ability to set firm boundaries set with warmth and love: My therapist today has really clear boundaries ("Creating a Healthy Therapist-Patient Relationship"). She lets me know when I'm going too far and what type of behavior is and isn't acceptable in the therapy space. This was hard to get used to at first, but it's helped me for the real world where you can't walk all over people and expect them to be okay with it. At the same time, she is very warm and loving. I've met other therapists who are so afraid of being trampled on by their BPD clients (we struggle with boundaries sometimes) that they become very guarded and they forget what we need most: warmth and compassion. There's a healthy balance to be found.
- A sense of humor: This might seem surprising and this doesn't mean a therapist pokes fun at you or tries to crack a joke in the middle of a conflict, but I laugh a lot in therapy these days and it feels so good. Sometimes we laugh about some of the old dramatic situations I'd end up in or a time when I was really angry with her. She knows when it's appropriate and when it's not. We can laugh together. Life with BPD doesn't have to be without joy.
- Consistency and availability: An effective BPD therapist knows that treating borderline will take time, consistency, and patience. It's not a disorder that's going to go away in 16 sessions. I have often needed my therapists after hours and my therapists have been willing (with boundaries in place) to receive phone calls and emails when distress and crisis strike outside the therapy hour. This has been critical in my recovery. Not all therapists are willing or able to do this and that's okay, but I'd also suggest asking your therapist about a plan for in between sessions or after hours.
- A capacity to think outside the box: I've had some weird moments and some not-so-pretty moments in therapy as a result of borderline personality disorder. I struggle with a lot of different issues as a result of BPD like chronic pain, addiction, and dysfunctional family relationships. My borderline personality disorder therapist has a lot of tricks up her sleeves and some might call her unconventional. She draws on different tools when she needs them and she's not rigidly stuck to one way of treating whatever my borderline personality disorder brings to the therapy room on a given day.
What do you appreciate about your BPD therapist?
Easton, W. (2018, July 30). What Makes a Good Borderline Personality Disorder Therapist? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 13 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2018/7/what-makes-a-good-borderline-personality-disorder-therapist
Author: Whitney Easton
Hi Whitney, I am so happy to have found you in my search to help my son. He is 23 and I believe on the verge of being diagnosed with BPD but none has said definitively. he just fired his psychiatrist of 6 months. He has an appointment in a week to meet a new one. your article was very helpful to me. Unfortunately he and I are not speaking at the moment. Surprised!? I will email him the link to this post. I always want him to know I am thinking of him, involved with his care along with his dad (who I am divorced from) and always love him.
Hi Nancy, I'm so glad to hear that Whitney's article has been useful for you. I can hear that you are thinking often of your son, even though you're not speaking at the moment. I hope his new psychiatrist is supportive and helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, I can imagine it might resonate with others who have loved ones with borderline personality disorder.
I appreciate what you said because l just met with with a new resident m.d. student. Her first question to me were pushing my boundaries at our first meeting: being in therapy for x years, insulting, DBT skills isn't offer, talking about behavior, mood, environment, l just felt run of the mill sameness. Peer support is better.
Hi Maya, Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you the best in finding the right match between you and a therapist. Sometimes I've found that can take time. -Whitney
You're right, it can definitely take time to find the right match. Took me 17 years to find the right one. But she's amazing and I never would have healed as I have without her ongoing patience, help and support.
My personal advice is run far and fast from these [moderated]. women with this disorder don't have the ability to have adult relationships because they don't have an adult emotional psychic, [moderated] Be honest and tell her it's because of your disease and fast.
Hi Lawrence, Thank you for reading my post. I can understand that someone with BPD can say and do hurtful things, sometimes. I like to remember that not all people with BPD are the same and that many of us can and do get help. I have many healthy relationships in my life today. Please do keep reading. -Whitney