Trauma and Outcomes of Mentalization-Based Therapy for Individuals With Borderline Personality Disorder

Maaike L. Smits, Patrick Luyten*, Dine J. Feenstra, Dawn L. Bales, Jan Henk Kamphuis, Jack J.M. Dekker, Roel Verheul, Jan J.V. Busschbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: Recent meta-analyses suggest that many patients with borderline personality disorder have a history of complex trauma. Although trauma is central in mentalization-based approaches to the understanding of borderline personality disorder, surprisingly little is known about the effects of trauma on outcomes of mentalization-based treatment (MBT). This article investigates the prevalence and impact of childhood trauma among patients with borderline personality disorder participating in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing day hospital MBT (MBT-DH) and intensive outpatient MBT (MBT-IOP). METHODS: All 114 patients from the original multicenter RCT in the Netherlands were included in this study. Childhood trauma was assessed at baseline (with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire), and its impact on symptom severity, interpersonal functioning, and borderline pathology was investigated through multilevel modeling for 36 months after the start of treatment. RESULTS: Childhood trauma was common among patients with borderline personality disorder referred to MBT, with more than 85% meeting cutoff criteria for substantial childhood trauma. Childhood trauma had little impact on outcomes of either MBT-DH or MBT-IOP in terms of improved borderline personality disorder features or interpersonal functioning. However, patients with substantial childhood trauma seemed to improve more rapidly with MBT-DH, as compared with MBT-IOP, in terms of symptom severity. In addition, patients with a history of emotional neglect showed more rapid changes in symptoms of borderline personality disorder with MBT-DH compared with MBT-IOP. CONCLUSIONS: Findings are discussed in the context of a social communicative approach to borderline personality disorder, with a focus on the need to address trauma in MBT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychotherapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


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