An experimental investigation of the impact of personality disorder diagnosis on clinicians: can we see past the borderline?

Danny C. K. Lam, Elena V. Poplavskaya, Paul M. Salkovskis, Lorna I. Hogg, Holly Panting

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Background: There is concern that diagnostic labels for psychiatric disorders may invoke damaging stigma, stereotypes and misunderstanding. Aims: This study investigated clinicians’ reactions to diagnostic labelling by examining their positive and negative reactions to the label borderline personality disorder (BPD). Method: Mental health professionals (n=265) viewed a videotape of a patient suffering from panic disorder and agoraphobia undergoing assessment. Prior to viewing the videotape, participants were randomly allocated to one of three conditions and were given the following information about the patient: (a) general background information; (b) additional descriptive information about behaviour corresponding to BPD; and (c) additional descriptive information about behaviour corresponding to BPD, but explicitly adding BPD as a possible comorbid diagnostic label. All participants were then asked to note things they had seen in the videotape which made them feel optimistic and pessimistic about treatment outcome. Results: Participants in the group that were explicitly informed that the patient had a BPD diagnostic label reported significantly fewer reasons to be optimistic than the other two groups. Conclusions: Diagnostic labels may negatively impact on clinicians’ judgments and perceptions of individuals and therefore clinicians should think carefully about whether, and how, they use diagnosis and efforts should be made to de-stigmatise diagnostic terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-373
JournalBehavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy
Issue number3
Early online date25 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2016



  • borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, diagnosis

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