Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens


META: Borderline personality disorder is a complex condition which can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, however it is typical for symptoms to develop during teen years. Understanding what your teen is going through can help you as a family to manage their condition.

Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens

Our personalities are what distinguish us from others and determine how we behave with other people and engage with the world around us. We inherit certain aspects of our personality through our genes, and other aspects are shaped by our experiences. Personality disorders can develop at any age, but it is typical for symptoms to first present in the adolescent years. These conditions take effect by altering the behaviour and cognition of the individual.

Personality is an extremely complex aspect of human beings and it can change throughout life. As a result, it can be difficult to determine exactly when somebody is living with a disorder. This creates a barrier to accessing treatment for individuals and can create unhelpful stigmas around emotional instability.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’, is a form of personality disorder that results in the individual experiencing extreme emotions. For those living with borderline personality disorder, once a strong or intense emotions are triggered, it is very hard to de-escalate. For this reason, individuals living with borderline personality disorder are likely to have unstable relationships. They are also likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours, including suicidal thoughts and actions.

In recent years there have been important developments in understanding, diagnosing and treating borderline personality disorder. There are now a variety of effective treatments available. With help from a licensed mental health professional, individuals living with BPD can develop coping strategies to achieve better emotional balance and improve their quality of life.

Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder in Young People

One of the most positive contributing factors to better treatment of borderline personality disorder is that diagnosis and treatment are now available for younger age groups. When teenagers and children receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment, they have an increased chance of a brighter future.

At The Wave, we understand how complex and challenging living with BPD and other mental health conditions is. We focus on person-centred treatment, offering completely personalised treatment programmes alongside a diverse range of holistic and alternative therapies. We combine cutting-edge clinical treatment, with skills-building sessions to increase the resilience and power of the young people at our centre. We strongly believe that living with borderline personality disorder doesn’t mean you can’t engage in a full and happy life. Our young people deserve nourishing care, and we are here to help them become the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves.

Treating Borderline Personality Disorder

A diagnosis of borderline personality disorder does not indicate the end of a happy life; in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Often when young people are helped to understand the mental health condition they are living with, they are able to discover coping strategies to deal with their very intense feelings.

At The Wave, we understand the specific needs of young people, and how they differ from adults. We have developed a range of treatments that heal both the body and mind and that help lead young people to a happier place in life.

We know how important a role the family unit plays in treatment for BPD. Communication breakdown and misunderstandings can lead to further distress for all family members. We aim to work with families and parents to find good coping strategies from day one.

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder at The Wave: Approaching Health Holistically

At The Wave, we make it our mission to support young people throughout some of their most challenging days. With the goal of helping young people develop the skills and resilience needed to take on their mental illness, we base our treatment on a holistic healing process.

We treat a range of mental health conditions with a multi-faceted approach. We combine medical treatment with compassionate care and life-skills development, enabling all of the young people who come to our centre to start their recovery journey in a secure and caring environment.

We focus on seven components that see our young people develop and grow throughout their time with us. We believe that education is powerful, and we support all of our young people to understand their borderline personality disorder and any associated symptoms whilst working with them to develop healthy coping strategies.

Mental illness can cause the individual to feel as though they are living in limbo, unable to make choices about their life.

Our treatment program puts the control back in the hands of our young people. We want to help build a solid foundation for our service users, giving young people back their ability and confidence to have dreams and make plans.

 Our seven main components are:

  • Clinical 
  • Destination future 
  • Education 
  • Experiences 
  • Global citizenship 
  • Medical
  • Outside-Inside

Medical Excellence and Individualised Care

Our medical team is made up of experts in child and adolescent mental health. They understand the specific needs of children and their families in these critical moments. We specialise in child safeguarding and early childhood trauma, which means that parents can rest assured that young people are in a place where they will be cared for and where they can grow and thrive.

We know that every adolescent and their condition is unique and that their treatment plan should reflect this. We tailor all of our treatment plans to the specific hopes, fears, and needs of the individual.

Our Treatment Approaches

We combine medical excellence with alternative therapies to create a holistic and thorough care package for our young people with personality disorders. We put the individual in focus when tailoring their plan, and incorporate their needs and desires for treatment. Our modalities include:

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy

We use a variety of talking therapies to underpin all of our treatment plans at The Wave. This includes dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT). DBT is a branch of the widely used and highly considered cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).

Through DBT, young people are guided to practice the art of mindfulness and self-awareness. Two key practices in the treatment of personality disorders. We use DBT to treat borderline personality disorder as it enables young people to connect more deeply with their true selves and those around them. 

We run these sessions twice a week in a group work formation, and each session is ninety minutes long. Outside of the session, we ask young people to complete additional assignments to compound learning, and our team of specialists work with them individually to support using these strategies in practice.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy

IFS therapy is based on the premise that inside all of us is a calm and centred core that can be uncovered.

This method of therapy is based on the notion that we are all built on elements that pave our way through life. These elements are occasionally out of balance: for example, certain elements can be intensely heightened, minimising others. This lack of balance causes the individual to act in challenging ways, which is difficult for them and those around them.

IFS therapy sessions at The Wave encourage our young people to work through their elements and access their inner core with the guidance of a trained specialist. Once a solid foundation has been established, young people can begin to work through the roots of their problems.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy works to help people understand how they feel and why they experience certain emotions. This theory is concerned with the idea that if young people thoroughly understand the causes and shapes of their emotions, they will be able to make more informed choices about their lives and relationships.

Psychodynamic therapy is a widely used talking therapy based on the idea that young people can develop techniques and coping strategies through the acts of talking and reflecting. This approach recognises the complex nature of human beings and strives to shine a light on how and why people behave, both consciously and unconsciously. 

Group Therapy for Personality Disorders

We place a strong emphasis on group therapy at The Wave. All our young people take part in group sessions. This gives them a chance to share, listen, offer support, gain acceptance, and reflect. It reminds young people that they are not alone on their journeys, and enables them to find a sense of community.

Every session of group therapy is different, and we cover a range of general psychotherapy topics. Some common themes include: challenging unhelpful self-talk, communication with others, and relapse prevention. Often we focus our sessions on broader life skills such as mindfulness, successful communication, and developing healthy relationships. 

Medical Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Our clinical and psychiatric team carefully assess each young person to determine whether medication is appropriate for their condition. For some people, medication can complement the other therapies they undertake at our centre.

Although there is no FDA-approved medication specifically for BPD, some medications may help ease related symptoms, such as impulsivity or mood instability. Medications are also often used to relieve the symptoms of associated health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis.

Alternative Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is complex and, like all mental health conditions, responds well to a combination of therapeutic approaches. We provide many activities to nourish both the body and mind.

Organic Kitchen Garden

Gardening and spending time in nature have long been used for their mental health benefits and healing effects. We at The Wave have recognised and taken advantage of the beautiful natural world around us by creating an organic kitchen garden. From the planting of seeds and the harvesting of fruits and vegetables through to the cooking of fresh balanced meals, we use the mindful practice of gardening to complement our therapies.

Gardening in a group can provide a much-needed sense of community for our young people, allowing them to bond over a shared practice.

We are passionate about building skills for life at The Wave. For those who find real satisfaction in gardening, we offer a certificate-based course led by the team at The Royal Horticultural Society. 

Art Therapy 

Art therapy can create a helpful balance for our young people after the more challenging aspects of therapy. Talking therapy can bring up some difficult experiences and often our young people choose to use the art therapy sessions as a more gentle and creative way to express themselves.

Young people living with BPD often find art therapy useful due to the way it can tackle deep-seated feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. Through the mindful practice of art therapy, individuals can begin to heal their relationships, first with themselves and then with the world around them.

Those who enjoy art at The Wave can participate in a twelve-week course led by the London School of Art every Saturday.

A Day in the Life of Someone Accessing Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder at The Wave

At The Wave, our fundamental goal is to provide a supportive and caring environment that allows young people to grow and heal through holistic treatment. We recognise the value of maintaining routine for the people in our care, and we take a balanced approach to providing a safe and structured environment. This allows for flexibility appropriate to the needs of our young people. We also offer a range of activities to provide our young people with variety in their day-to-day routine.

In tandem with medically approved and recognised therapies, we include sessions such as meditation, creative activities, and yoga to nourish the bodies and souls of our young people.

The Wave centre is a comfortable and safe space for young people to start their recovery journey. Although our primary focus is recovery, young people have access to life-skills sessions and volunteering and higher education opportunities.

 Every day at The Wave is different, but a daily schedule could include:

  • 7.00 – Wake up
  • 7:30 – Breakfast
  • 9:30 – Group process
  • 11:30 – Break
  • 11:45 – Psychoeducational groups
  • 13:00 – Lunch
  • 14:00 – Creative therapies
  • 15:00 – Individual therapies
  • 16:00 – Activities
  • 17:30 – Personal projects and journalling
  • 18:30 – Reflections group
  • 19:00 – Dinner
  • 20:00 – Leisure time

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Diagnosing borderline personality disorder can be incredibly complex. However, there are certain agreed criteria used by mental health professionals to identify borderline personality disorder. These criteria include the following:

  • Real or imagined abandonment
  • Self harm
  • Very intense emotions
  • Intense anger
  • Engaging in intense or risky relationships
  • An unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Engaging in impulsive behaviour such as unsafe sex or substance abuse
  • Recurrent suicidal ideation, attempting suicide or self-harming behaviours.
  • Emotional instability
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Uncontrollable or unforeseen anger
  • Intense paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms

Borderline Personality Disorder FAQ

Can Medication Be Used to Treat BPD?

Although some individuals living with BPD may take medication to ease their symptoms successfully, there are currently no FDA-approved medications specifically to treat borderline personality disorder.

Various medications can ease the symptoms associated with BPD, and they can also be used to manage any co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety or psychosis.

Medication should be used as part of a broader care programme; it can complement individual and group therapy, including the modalities we have discussed above.

Does BPD Only Affect Women?

There is a common misconception that BPD only affects women. Early research found that women were disproportionately affected by a ratio of 3:1. However, recent peer reviewed studies find that the percentage of people affected by BPD is more evenly distributed between men and women. The types of attachment most commonly found in people with BPD are unresolved, preoccupied, and fearful

This myth may persist because there has been little research on men living with BPD. For example, in psychiatric settings, there tends to be a higher ratio of women than men: this is thought to be due to the higher percentage of women seeking help. This type of unhelpful misconception can impact the accessibility and success of treatment.

Does BPD Develop Due to Bad Parenting?

It is common for parents to be blamed for the issues their children experience; however, there is no evidence to suggest that bad or neglectful parenting is the cause of BPD. There may be instances when cases of BPD overlap with poor parenting, but studies do not show this as cause and effect. Often, parents of children with BPD are loving and supportive mothers and fathers who cooperate with us to find the best outcome for the health of their child. At The Wave, we work with parents to help them truly understand what their child is going through and how they can best provide support.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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