Does CBT work for BPD?

CBT for borderline

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is the most common and effective treatment for people with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). It isn’t a single type of treatment — there are many different forms of CBT, some of which work better for BPD than others. DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and schema-focused therapy are particularly successful at improving BPD by helping people develop healthy coping skills to boost their quality of life. 

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that focuses on changing the cognitive (thinking-related) and behavioral (action-related) elements of a mental health condition. In each session, your therapist will help you identify unhelpful thought patterns which have a negative impact on your thoughts and behaviors.

By understanding why you think and act in the ways in which you do, CBT puts you in control so you can reshape your life. If you consistently attend CBT sessions for a minimum of two months, there’s a great chance any anxiety and depression you experience because of your BPD will be improved.

How does it work?

CBT encourages you to focus on the present instead of the past. Your therapist may ask what happened in the past to make you think and act the way you do, but most of your talks will be about how the current way in which you think and act causes your symptoms and how you can improve your condition.

Unlike some other forms of therapy where the therapist takes a passive role and mostly listens while you talk, the therapist takes an active role in CBT, giving you direct guidance and advice to improve your condition.

Because your problematic thoughts and actions have been learned and developed over the course of years, a couple of hours of CBT each week is unlikely to give you good results. To complement the sessions, your therapist will assign you homework, such as content to read and actions to take, to help improve your symptoms.

The best CBT for BPD

CBT can help many mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Specialist types of CBT are required to improve BPD — DBT and schema-focused therapy. Both these forms of specialist therapy have proven to be very successful at reducing BPD symptoms.

DBT is a complex form of therapy that includes one-to-one sessions with a therapist, group sessions with others with similar symptoms, and phone sessions when you need help with an immediate problem.

DBT improves BPD symptoms by helping you:

  • Regulate your emotions
  • Become mindful so you can live in the moment and pay attention
  • Successfully manage relationships with the people around you
  • Tolerate everyday distress and conflict
  • Develop the motivation needed to avoid unhealthy coping skills, such as drug abuse

Schema-focused therapy follows the theory that BPD develops due to maladaptive thought patterns and behavior early on in life. To help manage their symptoms, people then develop unhealthy coping skills, such as self-harm, to avoid triggering unwanted thoughts and behaviors.

Unlike traditional CBT, schema-focused therapy is more flexible and focuses on your emotions. It also takes a long time (usually 1-4 years) for it to work.

CBT methods for BPD

While BPD isn’t completely curable, CBT can help you manage your symptoms, adjust your behavior, and improve your life. Here are some of the specific CBT techniques used by therapists to improve the condition:

  • Making SMART goals: SMART goals stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. These goals help to keep you accountable and give you some structure.
  • Cognitive restructuring: Helps you understand how your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are all linked and how they affect each other. Cognitive restructuring can also help you learn how to change thoughts before they become behaviors.
  • Skill development: By working through breathing and relaxation exercises, you can learn how to avoid negative thought patterns and change the way you think to result in better, healthier behavior.
  • Meditation and mindfulness: Meditation and mindfulness can help distract you from unhelpful thoughts and encourage you to be more present. These skills are also effective ways of regulating your emotions.

Getting help for BPD

Don’t worry if you’ve been diagnosed with BPD. This diagnosis means you have a solid foundation that you can start on to improve your life. At Cyti Psychology, we have many therapists that are trained in the specific forms of CBT to improve the way you think and act when presented with difficult situations.

If you’ve never had therapy before, you may be a little nervous about your first session. But with our online services, you don’t even need to leave your home to speak to a qualified therapist. Make your first appointment today and you can talk to a CBT therapist from the comfort of your own home through a video chat on your phone or computer.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741