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A pilot study of defenses in adults with personality disorders

Author(s): Perry JC


This study examined defensive functioning in adults entering open-ended dynamic psychotherapy and determined whether defenses predict retention at 1 year. Beginning at about the fifth session, 14 adults with personality and or depressive disorders entering open-ended dynamic psychotherapy had five therapy sessions audiotaped. The sessions were rated according to the Defense Mechanism Rating Scales, quantitative method. Interrater reliability of overall defensive functioning (ODF) and the number of defenses used per session were intraclass R = .85 and .83, respectively, whereas that of seven defense levels yielded a median of .625 (range .52 to .80). Stability of ODF across the five sessions was intraclass R = .48. The 11 subjects with personality disorders (PDs) used predominantly lower immature (49.3%) and neurotic (40.8%) level defenses. Subjects with borderline PD had significantly lower ODF than those with other PD types. Higher ODF was associated with remaining in treatment at 1 year, although this was confounded with a higher frequency of weekly sessions. Quantitative assessment of defenses demonstrated fair to excellent reliability and indicated that in the short term approximately half of defensive functioning reflects a stable repertoire, whereas the remaining variation may be due to occasion and error. PDs and especially BPD are characterized by a predominance of lower defenses. Higher defensive functioning was associated with twice-weekly sessions and retention in therapy at 1 year. In therapy, adjusting technique to the patient's defenses may improve retention and outcome.

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