Personality disorders

Written by Ellen Hoggard

Ellen Hoggard

Counselling Directory Content Team

Head of Content

Last updated on 21st June, 2016

We recognise that the system of personality disorder diagnosis can be considered controversial. It is completely your choice which term, if any, you want to use, knowing that your doctor or care team may use another.

We appreciate that the feelings and behaviours associated with personality disorders are very difficult to live with, and everyone deserves understanding and support. We recognise the diversity in understanding of experiences and preferences around terms individuals may wish to use. We are also aware that some professionals disagree with the system of personality disorder diagnosis, and that some people given the diagnosis find it unhelpful and stigmatising.

The terms used on Counselling Directory are those that are generally used in the UK, currently. We refer to these terms throughout, with the hope of reaching and supporting as many people as possible.

We all have different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving and these are the parts that make us who we are, our personality. We don’t always react in the same way, as our thoughts, feelings and behaviours will often depend on the situation. But most of the time, we behave in quite a predictable way, or pattern. It is these patterns that make up our personality and describe us as kind, shy, selfish, ambitious, loving and so on.

As we mature, our thoughts, feelings and behaviours will start to change. Though generally, our personality will not. Instead, it will develop as we grow old, face new experiences and learn how to cope with life challenges. If you are suffering with a personality disorder, however, you may find this difficult.

Living with a personality disorder may mean your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are more difficult to understand and manage. This may mean your attitudes and actions are different from others. People may not understand this, which can leave you feeling low and insecure.

Counselling for personality disorders will help you understand your thoughts and behaviours better. You will learn how to focus on your beliefs, understand how to control your emotions and learn how to manage symptoms. It is important to talk about what you are going through, whether it be with a friend, family member or suitably qualified professional. While there are many different treatment options available, it will depend on your situation. Your counsellor will work with you to understand and decide which one will be most effective.

Seeking help

An important part of your treatment is the relationship between you and the professional. Having someone who you trust and know will support, listen and believe in you is crucial in making sure you are getting the most out of your treatment.

How can I find a counsellor/psychotherapist?

The first step of your journey will be to find a professional that resonates with you. On Counselling Directory we have a proof policy in place. This ensures all professionals listed with us have provided proof of membership with a counselling regulatory body. To help you learn more about them and the way they work, we encourage our members to fill their profiles with plenty of information.

Personality disorders will usually become noticeable in adolescence and continue into adulthood. You may find it hard to build and maintain relationships and you may struggle to work with other people effectively. Living with a personality disorder can leave you fearing other people. This can often lead to social isolation and in turn, leave you feeling alienated from others.

Yet with the right support and information, you can begin to understand what you are going through. You can learn how to build relationships, understand others, cope with your feelings and live a fulfilling life.

A personality disorder can show itself in different ways. There are currently 10 known types of personality disorder, which can be grouped into three clusters:

Cluster A personality disorders

According to the NHS, someone with a cluster A personality disorder may find it difficult to relate to others. They may show behaviour patterns that other people may describe as “odd or eccentric”. The personality disorders within cluster A include:

Cluster B personality disorders

If someone is diagnosed with a cluster B personality disorder, they may struggle to regulate their emotions. Those with a cluster B personality disorder may be described as "erratic".

Cluster C personality disorders

Personality disorders included in cluster C are those in which anxious and fearful behaviour is central. Individuals with these personality disorders are often regarded as “antisocial and withdrawn”. Cluster C personality disorders include:

Treatment for personality disorders

The form of treatment offered to you and how effective the treatment is will depend on both the severity of your condition and what is available in your local area. Generally, treatment will involve a course of psychological therapy. This may include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy. Treatment usually lasts at least six months, but this will depend on your situation.

Your counsellor or psychotherapist will aim to help you regulate your thoughts, emotions and understand yourself better. Often sufferers will find that their personality disorder improves as they age. This suggests perhaps that as they grow older, they gain more life experience and develop a better understanding of how to manage and live with their responses and interactions with others.

It is this interaction with others that many people with a personality disorder find difficult, but it is also an area that counselling and psychotherapy can address. Some sufferers will unknowingly stir up emotions in others. A professional can help work through this, usually through suitable supervision and by providing an opportunity to talk in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

Specifically, psychotherapy and CBT are considered to be among the most effective treatment methods. Group therapy has also been shown to help. Being in a group situation will differ from real life because any disagreements or upset will occur in a controlled environment. Here professionals and other sufferers can help you overcome and learn from any issues that arise.

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

While there are no official laws or regulations that stipulate what level of training a counsellor dealing with personality disorders needs, it is recommended you check that your therapist is suitably qualified and has experience in the treatment you are seeking.

The NHS recommends the following forms of therapy for those with a personality disorder:

For more information regarding the different forms of personality disorders, visit the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and browse their section on Mental Health and Behavioural Conditions.

Further help

  • Rethink - Information about the different types of personality disorder.

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