This question often is the first question that my group is asked. Many family members of those with BPD believe that therapy is the answer. And for some with BPD therapy CAN be the answer. However, there are some complications when it comes to therapy and borderline personality disorder. They are:
- Sending someone to therapy is not like having your car repaired. It involves a lot of hard work on the part of the patient/client and on the part of their loved ones and supporters.
- Therapy as usual (referred to as TAU in the studies) can actually make BPD worse in some individuals. There are several BPD-specific therapies, such as DBT, Schema-focused therapy and Mentalization-based therapy.
- Therapy requires the buy-in of the patient/client. If he/she doesn’t want to admit he/she has a problem or doesn’t trust the therapist with his/her feelings, therapy will likely not have a lasting effect.
Unfortunately, you can’t force someone to go to therapy if she doesn’t want to go (except through a court order). What I suggest is that you use the tools I offer for a while. After you do that for some time, the borderline might begin to gather some self-awareness or to share her inner thoughts and feelings with you. It is likely that these thoughts and feelings will be filled with shame, self-hatred and worry. At that point, you can say something like, “Boy, it must feel awful to feel that way about yourself. What do you think you can do to feel better?” or “That’s so painful to feel that way. Maybe therapy can help?”
My wife has resisted going to DBT because it identifies her as a borderline and she “doesn’t want to be that person.” She also resists because DBT seems like a therapy of last resort to her and, if she fails at it, she feels that she will have to be committed to a mental institution. I occasionally do reinforce to her that there are people who are trained to help her feel better and encourage her to look into it. She is in therapy, but not in DBT. My daughter does see a DBT therapist. She decided to go because she was so angry all the time, and she felt terrible. She wanted to learn how to feel better. At some point, her emotional pain reached an intolerable level.
I have tried to model these skills in my life and, by doing so, shown my wife that I can more adequately cope with emotional situations, both personal and interpersonal. This modeling encourages my wife to consider DBT (or another emotional training program) to help her feel better. My suggestion is that you practice effective tools, master them and use your mastery over emotional situations as a beacon for your borderline’s healing.