Crisis interventions for people with borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex and severe mental disorder that affects approximately 2% of the general population. Many people with BPD experience considerable instability in their interpersonal relationships and sense of who they are, leading to frequent crises and acts of self harm. To date, little is known about what might help people with BPD when they are experiencing an acute crisis. In this review, we wanted to examine how effective crisis interventions are for people with BPD by looking at evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

We did not identify any completed studies that met the inclusion criteria. As there is inadequate evidence, we could not reach any conclusions about the management of acute crises in people with BPD. Given that crises in this population may be associated with an increased risk of suicide, further research is needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

A comprehensive search of the literature showed that currently there is no RCT-based evidence for the management of acute crises in people with BPD and therefore we could not reach any conclusions about the effectiveness of any single crisis intervention. High-quality, large-scale, adequately powered RCTs in this area are urgently needed.

Read the full abstract...

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) frequently present to health services in crisis, often involving suicidal thoughts or actions. Despite this, little is known about what constitutes effective management of acute crises in this population.


To review the evidence for the effectiveness of crisis interventions for adults with BPD in any setting. For the purposes of the review, we defined crisis intervention as 'an immediate response by one or more individuals to the acute distress experienced by another individual, which is designed to ensure safety and recovery and lasts no longer than one month.'

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases in September 2011: CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 3), MEDLINE (1948 to August Week 5 2011), MEDLINE In Process & Other Non-indexed Citations (8 September 2011), EMBASE (1980 to Week 36 2011), PsycINFO (1806 to September Week 1 2011), CINAHL (1937 to current), Social Services Abstracts (1979 to current), Social Care Online (12 September 2011), Science Citation Index (1970 to current), Social Science Citation Index (1970 to current), Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Science (1990 to current), Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Social Science and Humanities (1990 to current) and ZETOC Conference proceedings (12 September 2011). We searched for dissertations in WorldCat (12 September 2011), Australasian Digital Theses Program (ADTP; 12 September 2011), Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD), 12 September 2011 and Theses Canada Portal (12 September 2011). We searched for trials in the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and searched reference lists from relevant literature. We contacted the 10 most published researchers in the field of BPD (as indexed by BioMed Experts), in addition to contacting topic experts, Marsha Linehan, Arnoud Arntz and Paul Links, about ongoing trials and unpublished data.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing crisis interventions with usual care or no intervention or a waiting list control for adults of any age with BPD.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently screened titles, abstracts and full-text articles and assessed these against the inclusion criteria.

Main results: 

The search identified 15 studies, 13 of which we excluded. Reasons for exclusion were: lack of randomisation (N = 8); retrospective design (N = 2); or the intervention was a complex psychological therapy lasting longer than one month (N = 3). We identified two ongoing RCTs that met the inclusion criteria, with a combined predicted sample size of 688. These trials are ongoing and the results are therefore not included in the review, although they will be incorporated into future updates.