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What are the symptoms of personality disorders?

Personality disorders are stereotyped patterns of cognition and behavior, so ingrained and extreme as to cut across a broad range of activities and experiences. They are pervasive, inflexible, and lead to distress or impairment in a client’s personal relationships. There are three categories of personality disorders:
  1. The client appears odd or eccentric (paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal)
  2. The client appears dramatic, emotional or erratic (antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic)
  3. The client appears anxious or fearful (avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive).

How common are personality disorders?1

The prevalence of personality disorders affects 10 in every 100 persons, but can vary by the type of personality disorder. The most common are obsessive compulsive (8%), narcissistic and borderline (both about 6%). Less common are dependent (.005 %), histrionic and paranoid (both about 2%).

What is CBT for Personality Disorders like?

For all disorders, the CBT therapist starts by educating clients about their diagnosis, helps them set goals, and socializes them to CBT by teaching them essential thinking and behavioral skills. In working with personality disorders, the CBT therapist works to moderate the more extreme aspects of the condition and to increase flexibility in personal life and relationships. For example, for clients with borderline personality disorder, characterized by an instability of their emotions, goals, identity, relationships, and actions, CBT therapists may focus on helping clients find stability within the storm. Mindfulness meditative practice may help them observe the changes in thoughts and feelings, staying firmly grounded in the present moment. Skills training may help them promote greater stability in their relationships. Schema-focused work may help them address the long-standing, deeply grounded beliefs that guide their actions and sensitize their reactions. Clients with schizotypal personality disorder, whose eccentricities compromise their ability to form social and close relationships, need to focus on empathy and acceptance of their idiosyncratic style. If they desire and value understanding and acceptance, they can learn to take the initiative be being understanding and accepting of others. And they can examine the beliefs that make this difficult. For clients with avoidant personality disorder, whose feelings of social ineptitude and fears of ridicule result in social avoidance and inhibition, the focus is on connections. CBT therapists may help them in accepting their sensitive nature, examining the beliefs that hold them back, and acknowledging their courage in pushing through them. Each of these personality disorders holds a seed that can reflect a positive intent, a positive purpose or drive. CBT therapists work with the client to discover ways to enable that seed to grow.

For health and mental health professionals

Learn to treat personality disorders more effectively at our CBT for Personality Disorders workshop.

1Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2011). Personality Disorders: A Nation-based Perspective on Prevalence. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience8(4), 13–18. Retrieved here.