A young teenager seeks CBT for a personality disorder treatment.

Everything You Need to Know About CBT for Personality Disorders

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people with personality disorders learn new ways of thinking and responding to challenging situations.


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How CBT treats personality disorders

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used therapy for treating personality disorders. It involves helping people to identify and challenge their maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors. Through CBT, people with personality disorders can develop coping strategies and learn new ways of thinking and responding to challenging situations. By addressing the underlying cognitive and behavioral patterns, a CBT therapist can help people with personality disorders manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. This form of therapy can be effective in assisting people to develop more adaptive ways of interacting with others and managing their emotions. By gradually changing their thought patterns and behaviors, people can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and functioning. 

Skills taught in CBT for personality disorders

CBT for personality disorders teaches a variety of skills to help people better manage their condition. Overall, CBT for personality disorders empowers people to develop a range of skills to better manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to improve their overall quality of life and functioning.

Emotional regulation

This skill focuses on helping people identify and understand their emotions and develop healthy ways to cope with and regulate them. People learn techniques such as mindfulness and distress tolerance to help them manage their emotional responses in a more adaptive way. For borderline personality disorder (BPD) specifically, emotional regulation skills are vital for managing intense emotions and improving overall stability and functioning.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns contributing to distressing emotions and maladaptive behaviors. People learn to recognize and reframe their automatic thoughts and beliefs to cultivate a more balanced and constructive perspective.

Interpersonal effectiveness

This skill improves people’s ability to navigate and maintain healthy relationships. This may involve learning assertiveness, boundary-setting, and effective communication skills to help people advocate for their needs and maintain healthy connections with others.


This skill involves teaching people to approach difficulties systematically and strategically. People learn to identify specific problems, generate potential solutions, and evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies in addressing their challenges. For example, people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) would benefit from problem-solving skills by developing more flexible approaches to challenges and reducing distress associated with rigid thinking patterns.

Behavioral activation

This skill involves increasing engagement in positive and fulfilling activities to counteract feelings of emptiness and boredom. People learn to schedule pleasant and rewarding activities to improve their mood and sense of purpose. Among personality disorders, people with avoidant personality disorder may benefit significantly from learning behavioral activation techniques to counteract avoidance behaviors and increase engagement in rewarding activities.

Distress tolerance

This skill focuses on assisting people in developing healthy coping mechanisms to manage distress without resorting to harmful behaviors. People learn to tolerate uncomfortable emotions and situations without engaging in impulsive or destructive actions.


This skill involves cultivating present-moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations. People learn to practice mindfulness techniques to reduce reactivity and enhance their ability to experience life with greater clarity and stability.

Benefits of CBT for personality disorders

Research has shown that people who undergo CBT experience long-term benefits for their personality disorders. Through CBT, people learn to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors, ultimately leading to positive changes in their personality traits and overall well-being. Over time, people may see improvements in their relationships, work performance, and overall quality of life as they continue to apply the skills and strategies learned in therapy to manage their personality disorders.

How quickly does CBT work for personality disorders? 

Research has shown that CBT can be effective in reducing symptoms of personality disorders relatively quickly for some people. People often report feeling improvements in their symptoms within a few months of starting therapy. However, the speed of progress can vary from person to person, and some may require longer-term treatment to see significant changes in their symptoms. Overall, CBT has been shown to be a valuable and relatively quick treatment option for people experiencing personality disorders.

How is medication used to treat personality disorders?

In addition to therapy, medication is often used to help manage symptoms of personality disorders in people. For example, people with BPD may be prescribed mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medications to help control impulsive behavior and mood swings. Those with narcissistic personality disorder may benefit from antidepressants to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. People with schizoid personality disorder may be prescribed anti-anxiety medications to help alleviate feelings of discomfort in social situations. It is essential for people with personality disorders to work closely with a mental health professional to determine the most effective medication for their specific needs.

Other types of treatment for personality disorders

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of therapy that focuses on helping people with personality disorders regulate their emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and develop distress tolerance skills.

Schema therapy

Schema therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and underlying beliefs that contribute to maladaptive behaviors in people with personality disorders.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy helps people with personality disorders explore and understand the root causes of their dysfunctional behaviors and patterns, often stemming from early childhood experiences, to create lasting change in their lives.

IOP for personality disorders

When a person is struggling with severe personality disorder symptoms, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) may be used as a treatment option. IOP is designed to provide structured therapy and support for people who do not require the level of care of inpatient treatment but still need more intensive support than traditional outpatient therapy. This program typically involves group therapy, individual counseling, and skill-building exercises, such as CBT, to help people develop coping skills and better understand their behaviors and emotions. IOP can be a helpful stepping stone for people to manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Treatment for personality disorders at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with personality disorders, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including borderline personality disorder and other personality disorders. Our expert clinicians incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing personality disorders is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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