“I’m worried my daughter may have borderline personality disorder. I know treatment is available, but can BPD be cured?”
To explore this topic, we spoke with Jennifer Gatlin, a licensed professional counselor and a therapist at Fulshear Treatment to Transition, a young adult transitional living program in Texas.
What Is BPD?
It’s helpful to start with a quick overview of BPD. Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness characterized by a long-standing instability in interpersonal relationships and moods. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD is typically diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood but can be identified in those under age 18 if symptoms are significant and last at least a year.
For teens or young adults, symptoms of BPD include:
- Chronic mood instability.
- Emotional regulation difficulties.
- Fear of abandonment.
Teens and young adults with BPD can find it difficult to form and maintain lasting friendships. This is due to them having a tendency toward impulsivity and compulsive, unpredictable behaviors. Exaggerated emotional outbursts and frequent mood swings can also have an impact on relationships.
Is BPD Curable?
While BPD can’t be cured and won’t go away, Gatlin said the prognosis can be good for those who are going to therapy and taking medication, if needed, to manage their symptoms. She noted that a key milestone is when a young adult reaches their mid to late 20s, as that’s when the brain finishes developing. Once that process is complete, your son or daughter can better navigate their mental health.
“When their brain is fully developed, the person with BPD starts to know themself better and knows what works for them,” Gatlin said, adding that they can then best apply the skills they’ve learned in therapy. “I think the hard part is just getting through those rough years.”
So, although the answer to “Can borderline personality disorder be cured?” is no, treatment can help your teen or young adult if they have this mental illness.
How Do You Treat BPD?
Treatment for BPD typically involves dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that tries to change negative thinking patterns and promotes positive behavioral changes. DBT features individual and group therapy sessions.
Gatlin said Fulshear therapists use components of DBT as well as an attachment model of therapy, which increases the ability for young people with borderline personality disorder to have meaningful connections. This overall approach is important, she said, because according to the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, one of the diagnostic criteria for BPD is “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.”
At Fulshear, borderline personality treatment involves seeing those with the disorder as “connection seeking,” not “attention seeking.” Gatlin explained these young people need to connect to others but are not good at it, instead resorting to unhealthy behaviors to form relationships.
“So here, we’re teaching how to have healthy attachments and how to become a better seeker and get your needs met in healthier ways,” she said. “That will help with the symptoms.”
In addition to talk therapy, medication can be key to BPD treatment, although there’s no one medicine that targets or cures the disorder. Rather, medication for BPD is prescribed to treat specific symptoms. For example, anti-depressants can help with depression, while mood stabilizers can address mood swings. Gatlin noted anti-depressants are important given people with BPD have a high incidence of suicide attempts.*
According to NIMH, BPD is associated with a significantly higher rate of suicidal behavior and self-harm than the general public. The federal agency recommends that those who have BPD and are thinking of harming themselves or attempting suicide get help right away. It recommended resources including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (call 800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).
How To Help With BPD
While curing BPD is not possible, Gatlin had some advice for parents wondering how to help someone with the disorder.
- Try to stay calm during extreme mood swings. “If we’re thinking about our nervous systems, then the calmer I stay as the parent, the better chance of the situation calming because when I get amped up, then we just keep amping each other up, and that doesn’t help,” Gatlin said.
- During especially difficult times, reassure your child that you’re there for them and you love them. Remind them that it’s not always going to be this way. “It’s hard sometimes to find the words that can say that without being invalidating to the distress that they’re currently in,” Gatlin said, “but feelings really do pass. Feelings aren’t facts. That’s something that I remember hearing a long time ago, and it stuck with me.”
- If there’s a safety concern, jump into action. As mentioned earlier, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Crisis Text Line to help someone with BPD.
Gatlin also recommended parents take care of themselves by seeking therapy.
“If you think about a stereotypical client with BPD, they’re going to have a history of suicide attempts. It’s highly likely,” she said. “That’s traumatic for a parent to go through.”
You can find a therapist near you by using the Psychology Today search tool. If you’d like to connect with other parents whose loved ones are struggling with mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers family support groups.
Overall, when it comes to how to help someone with BPD, Gatlin said to keep in mind that your son or daughter didn’t choose to have this disorder.
“Have compassion and also recognize that this is hard — and have your own safe space to process that,” Gatlin said.
Reassurance When Your Teen or Young Adult Has BPD
While BPD can’t be cured and can be a difficult experience for your family, Gatlin said it’s important to not panic or catastrophize.
“It’s not always going to be stormy, which is what I think a lot of parents with adolescents and young adults think when things are just really tumultuous at home and there’s a lot of drama and a lot to take in,” she said. “That’s not going to go on forever.”
Gatlin also advised you keep in mind that your son or daughter wants to get better.
“They don’t enjoy living in this state of chaos,” she said. “Keep that in perspective, and get the support that you need.”
*This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If you’re concerned your teen or young adult is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for immediate support at 800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to 741741 — the Crisis Text Line — to speak with a trained crisis counselor right away.
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!