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Treating borderline personality disorder as a trainee psychologist: Issues of resistance, inexperience and countertransference

Elizabeth VA Cambanis


Clients with borderline personality disorder are viewed as difficult to work with. They also have high drop-out rates and unpredictable treatment outcomes. The characteristics of patients with borderline personality disorder often have a negative effect on the therapeutic process and on clinicians themselves. Challenges are likely magnified for trainee psychologists, given their lack of experience in implementing treatment plans and their inadequate understanding of underlying dynamics. However, to date, no studies have focused on the particular challenges experienced by trainee psychologists. This article attempts to address the gap in literature by exploring the difficulties experienced by a trainee psychologist in treating a patient with borderline personality disorder. A case study is used to highlight the challenges experienced by a novice psychologist in using specific therapeutic modalities recommended in the treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD), namely dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and mentalisation based therapy (MBT). The aim of the study was to help better identify, understand and normalise the countertransference experiences and other difficulties experienced by trainee psychologists in treating clients with BPD. The article highlights observations regarding the context of the supervisory process, the importance of personal psychotherapy, the potential for harm of pejorative views, and the complications arising from a mismatch between the treatment modality and the treatment context.

Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health 2012, 24(1): 99–109

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eISSN: 1728-0591
print ISSN: 1728-0583