People with dependent personality disorder (DPD) tend to have a number of symptoms and behaviors in common. People with DPD are fearful of being alone and avoid it at all costs, often to the extent of maintaining relationships that are unhealthy or even abusive. They are fearful of having to live and cope with the world independently, and often go to considerable lengths to avoid having to make even the simplest decisions without help. In addition, people with DPD tend to avoid occupations where they must work independently, or shoulder any type of responsibility.
Psychotherapy for DPD
The standard treatment for dependent personality disorder is psychotherapy. During sessions with his or her psychotherapist, a person with dependent personality disorder will learn strategies for coping with decision-making and other problem areas, as well as strategies for becoming more self-reliant in all areas of life, including personal relationships and the workplace.
In therapy, the psychotherapist helps the patient examine where the most pressing problems lie, and formulate goals for modifying behavior that are specific to the person’s needs. An important part of this process is having explicitly-stated goals that are realistic in terms of the person’s ability to achieve them.
Where applicable, psychotherapy will also address other problem behaviors that the person might be engaging in, such as substance abuse or self-harm.
One of the main problems with psychotherapy is that a person with this disorder often becomes dependent on his or her therapist. This is especially true with regard to long-term therapy. When dependency does develop, it can cause further issues when therapy is terminated.
Other types of treatment can include group therapy as an alternative to or in conjunction with one-on-one therapy. Family therapy can also be useful; it helps other family members learn coping skills and strategies along with the person who has the disorder. Talking with family and other people close to someone with DPD is also useful during the diagnostic process, as this helps a clinician or psychotherapist gain insight into how the person thinks and feels and reacts with others.
Psychotherapy is sometimes used in conjunction with medication as a treatment for dependent personality disorder. However, the medication is usually used to treat another mental health condition, such as depression or generalized anxiety, rather than the dependent personality disorder itself.
The most common medications used for treatment are antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. These help people cope with the depression and anxiety that is often a part of the disorder, as well as other symptoms such as panic attacks.
One of the most difficult issues that doctors face in prescribing medications is that many people with dependent personality disorder are at high risk of substance abuse and addiction. Medications are therefore prescribed only when absolutely necessary, and habit-forming medications are never prescribed.
Davison, S. Principals of managing patients with personality disorder. In Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, (2002). 8: 1-9.
MD Guidelines: Dependent Personality Disorder
Merck Manuals Home Medical Reference: Personality Disorders
PsychNet UK: Dependent Personality Disorder Fact Sheet
The Cleveland Clinic: Dependent Personality Disorder
US National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus: Dependent Personality Disorder