The American Psychiatric Association defines a personality disorder as a pattern of behavior and inner experiences that are differs from what the individual’s culture expects. There are three main clusters of personality disorders. The first is Cluster A, which includes eccentric or odd disorders. The second is Cluster B, which includes emotional, dramatic, or erratic disorders. The third is Cluster C, which includes anxiety and fear disorders.
The primary difference between a personality disorder and other mental health problems, which may seem similar, is that a personality disorder cannot be altered by medications or by negative consequences. The only way to help a person suffering from a personality disorder is intensive psychotherapy, which may help the patient realize their behaviors are socially unacceptable and help him or her find more appropriate ways of interacting with other people.
There are three personality disorders within the Cluster A category: Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, and Schizotypal Personality Disorder.
Individuals with a paranoid personality are often suspicious and distrustful of those around them, even if they have no factual reason to be. They may act in an effort to protect themselves from these perceived threats, even when no threat exists. This tends to drive away those around them, making the individual feel even more distrustful.
An individual with a schizoid personality are usually very withdrawn and solitary. In social settings, they may be perceived as cold and distant. They will usually be more concerned with their own feelings and thoughts and may fear intimacy with others. Instead of dealing with reality, they will often fantasize.
An individual with a schizotypal personality are much like those with a schizoid personality in that they are usually detached both emotionally and socially. In addition to this, they will also have traits similar to a person with schizophrenia in regards to their thoughts, perceptions, and communicative abilities. They will often believe their thoughts can cause real world effects, such as hurting someone by thinking angry thoughts. While many patients with schizophrenia had a schizotypal personality before the onset of their condition, most people with this personality disorder do not become schizophrenic.
In addition to the personality traits that result from the personality disorder, there may be other complications for patients. Patients with a personality disorder are at an increased risk for displaying self destructive behavior, becoming dependant on drugs or alcohol, developing mental health disorders, and are having mental breakdowns. All of this is complicated further by the fact that people with personality disorders also have a more difficult time forming relationships with their therapist and following through with a plan of treatment because they often don’t realize they have a problem.
Have you dealt with a patient who has a personality disorder? How did you attempt to treat them? What have you found to be the most successful option and what has failed to work for your patients?