Personality disorder traits and self-reported target problems in a treatment-seeking sample

Nick Huband, Chris Evans, Conor Duggan, Omer Khan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Assessments of personality disorder (PD) by clinicians or researchers are not always congruent with the problems that clients view as most salient. This can result in disagreement over areas for change, leading to dissatisfaction and the risk of treatment attrition.

METHOD: The sample comprised 141 treatment-seeking adults with PD. Each described the five things they most wanted to change about themselves. These target problems were compared with PD diagnoses obtained from the International Personality Disorder Examination.

RESULTS: The congruence between the clients' target problems and PD traits identified by the professionals was generally weak. Disagreement arose where a client's target problem was not a PD trait and, less frequently, where the client and the professional agreed on the presence of a trait but not on its importance. Surprisingly, doubting the trustworthiness of others was the most commonly reported target problem in this treatment-seeking sample even though many such participants did not qualify for that particular paranoid trait.

CONCLUSION: Personality disorder diagnoses were generally poor indicators of the problems these clients cited as most important. This lack of correspondence may explain some of the lack of effectiveness of interventions for PD.

KEY PRACTITIONER MESSAGE: The problem that a client with personality disorder (PD) views as most important may only be weakly identified in a formal diagnostic assessment. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, PD traits are insufficient to describe fully the things clients most want to change about themselves. Many clients with PD consider difficulty trusting others to be their most important problem, despite not qualifying for that particular paranoid trait. Risk of disagreement between the clinician and the client might be reduced if both parties can engage in a discussion about the results of any formal diagnostic assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-9
Number of pages8
JournalClinical psychology & psychotherapy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2012


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Disorders
  • Personality Inventory
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Psychotherapy
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult

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