Background: Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is noted to be an intervention with a growing body of evidence that demonstrates its efficacy in treating individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Evidence for the effectiveness of DBT in publicly funded community mental health settings is lacking however. No study to our knowledge has been published on the effectiveness of a 12 month standard DBT programme without adaptations for individuals with BPD in a publicly funded community mental health setting and no study has included data across multiple time-points. The main objective of the current study was to determine if completion of a 12 month DBT programme is associated with improved outcomes in terms of borderline symptoms, anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, depression and quality of life. A secondary objective includes assessing client progress across multiple time-points throughout the treatment.
Methods: Fifty-four adult participants with BPD completed the standard DBT programme across four sites in community mental health settings in the Republic of Ireland. Data was collected by the DBT therapists working with participants and took place at 8 week intervals across the 12 month programme. To explore the effects of the intervention for participants, linear mixed-effects models were used to estimate change utilising data available from all time-points.
Results: At the end of the 12 month programme, significant reductions in borderline symptoms, anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal ideation and depression were observed. Increases in overall quality of life were also noted. In particular, gains were made during the first 6 months of the programme. There was a tendency for scores to slightly regress after the six-month mark which marks the start of the second delivery of the group skills cycles.
Conclusions: The current study provides evidence for the effectiveness of standard DBT in publicly funded community mental health settings. As participants were assessed at the end of every module, it was possible to observe trends in symptom reduction during each stage of the intervention. Despite real-world limitations of applying DBT in community settings, the results of this study are comparable with more tightly controlled studies.