Personality Disorder

What is it

Each person has a unique set of personality traits that enhance their experiences and those that can make life more challenging at the best of times. However, some people experience long term patterns of distressing thoughts, feelings and behaviors that impact on their perception of reality and interrupt their ability to cope. This mental health condition is known as a personality disorder. 

People who exhibit traits of personality disorders experience difficulties with their sense of identity, empathy and independence. They find it hard to adapt to situations and in maintaining close relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. Anger outbursts may result in high conflict relationships or people may isolate themselves altogether as a way of managing further distress. These patterns typically develop during adolescence and become more severe into adulthood where people can find it difficult to function in everyday life.

What it includes

Currently, nine different personality disorders are recognised by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the DSM 5. While each disorder has a unique set of symptoms, they are grouped into three clusters -
  • Cluster A: Paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal are classified as the 'odd or eccentric' personality disorders. People with these conditions may be suspicious or guarded, interpreting others motives as dangerous, and others may lack interest in social contact or display bizarre thoughts and behaviours that stand out at social events.
  • Cluster B: Antisocial, histrionic, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders are grouped as having ‘highly expressed emotions and impulsive actions’ (such as anger or deliberate self-harm). People with these conditions may lack concern for others, have chronic low self-esteem or require significant attention from others to settle themselves emotionally. 
  • Cluster C: Avoidant, obsessive-compulsive and dependent personality disorders each include anxiety and rigidity. People with these conditions may be pre-occupied with inadequacy and extremely sensitive to the judgements of others, be perfectionistic and need to be in control, or fear being alone and be submissive in relationships.
As personality disorders commonly co-occur with other conditions, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse, people often lack awareness of their condition and can seek help for several years before a correct diagnosis is made by a GP or trained mental health professional. People with one personality disorder also tend to exhibit traits of other personality disorders, which can create personal confusion about whether one set of symptoms explains their circumstances fully. Family and friends assisting with the diagnostic process can be helpful in clarifying queries about the disorders. 

What we do

There is no one single treatment that has been developed for all personality disorders but each disorder can benefit from psychoeducation to assist in understanding and with psychological interventions to build coping skills for managing symptoms and any crisis that may present. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) and Schema Focused Therapy (SFT) have all been shown to be effective treatment options for borderline personality disorder, while other personality disorders have received less research attention. Treatment should be medium to long term (i.e.  >12 months), clients need to be consistent in attendance and their completion of homework to improve outcomes. Family or carer support and medication are also important treatment considerations, particularly in times of acute stress. 

Our Practitioners

Dr Bronwyn Massavelli

"Senior Clinical Psychologist"

Dr Bronwyn Massavelli, Clinical Psychologist B.Psych Sc (Hons 1), M.Clin Psych, PhD (Psychology). MAPS, MCCLIN, MPAIG, MPAWS Dr Bronwyn Massavelli is a registered Clinical Psychologist and provider wi...

To make an appointment, you can book Dr Bronwyn Massavelli online, or call KCPSYCH on 3256 6320 today.


Dr Angela Hain