Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Personality Disorders (CBT)

Ad Disclosure: Some of our recommendations, including BetterHelp, are also affiliates, and as such we may receive compensation from them if you choose to purchase products or services through the links provided

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented psychotherapy focusing on changing negative thought patterns to improve emotions and behaviors.


Personality Disorders CBT Can Treat:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Dependent Personality Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is grounded in the idea that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are deeply interconnected. This therapy method, evolving from cognitive-behavioral theory, is especially insightful when applied to personality disorders. These disorders are characterized by entrenched patterns of thinking and behavior that often lead to distress and difficulties in functioning. CBT addresses these patterns by identifying and challenging the core beliefs and interpretations that individuals hold about themselves and the world around them. 

Therapists are Standing By to Treat Your Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Health Needs

Explore Your Options Today


These beliefs often originate from early life experiences and shape how individuals with personality disorders perceive and interact with their environment, influencing their emotional and behavioral responses. By understanding and modifying these foundational beliefs, CBT aims to transform dysfunctional thinking and behavior patterns into healthier, more adaptive ones, offering individuals a pathway to more balanced and fulfilling interactions and experiences.

How CBT Treats Personality Disorders: The Basics

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating personality disorders by focusing on altering entrenched patterns of thinking and behavior. Central to this approach is helping individuals recognize and challenge the dysfunctional thoughts that are characteristic of such disorders, which often lead to maladaptive behaviors and emotional responses. The first step in CBT involves identifying specific patterns of distorted thinking. People with personality disorders typically experience persistent, negative, and inflexible thoughts. These thought patterns are closely tied to core beliefs - fundamental perceptions about oneself, others, and the world. In cases of personality disorders, these core beliefs can be skewed, leading to distorted interpretations of events and interactions.

CBT addresses these issues by challenging unhelpful beliefs and guiding individuals to test and reevaluate their perceptions, encouraging them to adopt more balanced and realistic viewpoints. This process includes behavioral experiments and skill-building activities, designed to test the validity of certain beliefs and assumptions, while also helping to develop essential skills for managing emotions and improving interpersonal relationships. CBT equips individuals with practical tools for emotional regulation, stress management, and effective communication. 

Unlike some therapies that focus extensively on past experiences, CBT is predominantly present-focused, emphasizing the immediate application of skills in real-life scenarios. It is a collaborative effort where the therapist and individual work together to identify problematic patterns and develop effective strategies to address them. Characteristically, CBT is goal-oriented and time-limited, with therapy sessions being structured and objectives set to ensure measurable progress within a specific timeframe.

Types of CBT for Personality Disorders

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for personality disorders comes in various forms, each tailored to address the unique patterns and challenges associated with different types of disorders. While the core principles of CBT remain constant, these specialized approaches take into account the specific needs and characteristics of each personality disorder. Here are some of the notable types of CBT used in this context:

  • Standard CBT: This is the traditional form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and is effective for a range of personality disorders. It focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and developing healthier cognitive and behavioral responses.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Originally developed for Borderline Personality Disorder, DBT combines standard CBT techniques with mindfulness practices. It emphasizes emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness skills. DBT is particularly effective in managing intense emotional responses and improving relationships.
  • Schema-Focused Therapy (SFT): SFT is designed to address deep-rooted and enduring patterns or themes (schemas) in thinking that are often present in individuals with personality disorders. This therapy helps in identifying and altering these long-standing schemas that are typically resistant to change.
  • Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT): CAT integrates elements of CBT with analytic techniques. It's useful in exploring how past experiences influence current behavior and thought patterns. CAT is often applied in treating personality disorders by helping individuals understand the root of their dysfunctional behaviors and how to change them.
  • Cognitive Therapy for Personality Disorders (CTPD): This approach is a more focused adaptation of CBT specifically for personality disorders. CTPD aims to modify the dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors that are characteristic of these disorders, often focusing on the interpersonal and self-regulatory difficulties.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): While MBCT is often used for depression, it's increasingly being applied to personality disorders. It combines cognitive therapy with mindfulness strategies to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and learn to manage them effectively.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT helps individuals accept their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them. It focuses on mindfulness and behavioral change, and is effective in increasing psychological flexibility – a vital skill for those with personality disorders.

Each of these types of CBT addresses different aspects of personality disorders, offering a range of tools and strategies for individuals to improve their mental health and well-being. The choice of therapy often depends on the specific disorder, the individual's needs, and the therapist’s expertise.

Application of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Personality Disorders

Applying CBT to personality disorders involves a multi-faceted approach that addresses the complex interplay of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors characteristic of these conditions. The application process is tailored to each individual's needs, considering the specific challenges and patterns associated with their personality disorder. Here's an overview of how CBT is typically applied in this context:

  1. Assessment and diagnosis: The process begins with a thorough assessment to understand the individual's specific personality disorder and related issues, including problematic behavioral patterns and underlying thought processes.
  2. Building a therapeutic relationship: Establishing a strong, trusting relationship between the therapist and the individual is crucial for a safe and collaborative treatment environment.
  3. Identifying and understanding patterns: The therapist helps the individual identify their negative thought patterns, behaviors, and emotional responses, and understand how these are related to their personality disorder.
  4. Cognitive restructuring: This involves challenging and changing irrational and harmful thought patterns to more rational and constructive beliefs and perceptions.
  5. Behavioral interventions: CBT incorporates behavioral strategies like role-playing, exposure to feared situations, or practicing new skills in real-life settings.
  6. Skills training: Teaching and practicing specific skills such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and effective communication are key components of treatment.
  7. Homework and practice: Practical assignments outside of therapy sessions, such as keeping thought diaries or practicing relaxation techniques, are an integral part of CBT.
  8. Addressing co-occurring issues: CBT also addresses co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression, providing a comprehensive approach to mental health.
  9. Monitoring progress and adjusting treatment: The therapy includes continual monitoring of progress and adjustments to the treatment plan as needed.
  10. Long-term management: Focus shifts to maintaining gains, preventing relapse, and managing symptoms long-term, including developing a personal wellness plan or periodic check-ins with the therapist.

The application of CBT for personality disorders is a dynamic and adaptive process, requiring a nuanced understanding of each individual's unique challenges. Its effectiveness lies in its ability to provide personalized strategies that not only address the symptoms but also empower individuals to lead more fulfilling and balanced lives.

Is CBT Right for Me?

Deciding if Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is right for you depends on your personal needs and the nature of your mental health concerns. CBT is renowned for its effectiveness in treating a range of issues, especially those involving negative thought patterns, behaviors, or emotional regulation. It's a structured, goal-oriented approach that requires active participation and a willingness to engage in self-exploration and practical exercises. Ideal for those seeking short-term treatment, CBT focuses on equipping you with coping strategies and cognitive skills to manage and improve your mental health.

However, the suitability of CBT varies. If you prefer a more exploratory or less structured form of therapy, or if your issues are not aligned with CBT’s areas of strength, other therapeutic approaches might be more beneficial. Consulting with a mental health professional can provide valuable insights into whether CBT is the best choice for your unique situation. Remember, the success of any therapy depends greatly on your commitment to the process and the therapeutic relationship.

Additional Resources

As advocates of mental health and wellness, we take great pride in educating our readers on the various online therapy providers available. MentalHelp has partnered with several thought leaders in the mental health and wellness space, so we can help you make informed decisions on your wellness journey. MentalHelp may receive marketing compensation from these companies should you choose to use their services.

MentalHelp may receive marketing compensation from the above-listed companies should you choose to use their services.