Effectiveness of Predominantly Group Schema Therapy and Combined Individual and Group Schema Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Arnoud Arntz, Gitta A. Jacob, Christopher W. Lee, Odette Manon Brand-De Wilde, Eva Fassbinder, R. Patrick Harper, Anna Lavender, George Lockwood, Ioannis A. Malogiannis, Florian A. Ruths, Ulrich Schweiger, Ida A. Shaw, Gerhard Zarbock, Joan M. Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Importance: Schema therapy (ST), delivered either in an individual or group format, has been compared with other active treatments for borderline personality disorder (BPD). To our knowledge, the 2 formats have not been compared with treatment as usual (TAU) or with each other. Such comparisons help determine best treatment practices. Objective: To evaluate whether ST is more effectively delivered in a predominantly group or combined individual and group format and whether ST is more effective than optimal TAU for BPD. Design, Setting, and Participants: In this multicenter, 3-arm randomized clinical trial conducted at 15 sites in 5 countries (Australia, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, and the UK), outpatients aged 18 to 65 years who had BPD were recruited between June 29, 2010, and May 18, 2016, to receive either predominantly group ST (PGST), combined individual and group ST (IGST), or optimal TAU. Data were analyzed from June 4, 2019, to December 29, 2021. Interventions: At each site, cohorts of 16 to 18 participants were randomized 1:1 to PGST vs TAU or IGST vs TAU. Both ST formats were delivered over 2 years, with 2 sessions per week in year 1 and the frequency gradually decreasing during year 2. Assessments were collected by blinded assessors. Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcome was the change in BPD severity over time, assessed with the Borderline Personality Disorder Severity Index (BPDSI) total score. Treatment retention was analyzed as a secondary outcome using generalized linear mixed model survival analysis. Results: Of 495 participants (mean [SD] age, 33.6 [9.4] years; 426 [86.2%] female), 246 (49.7%) received TAU, 125 (25.2%) received PGST, and 124 (25.0%) received IGST (1 of whom later withdrew consent). PGST and IGST combined were superior to TAU with regard to reduced BPD severity (Cohen d, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.29-1.18; P <.001). For this outcome, IGST was superior to TAU (Cohen d, 1.14; 95% CI, 0.57-1.71; P <.001) and PGST (Cohen d, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.09-1.59; P =.03), whereas PGST did not differ significantly from TAU (Cohen d, 0.30; 95% CI, -0.29 to 0.89; P =.32). Treatment retention was greater in the IGST arm than in the PGST (1 year: 0.82 vs 0.72; 2 years: 0.74 vs. 0.62) and TAU (1 year: 0.82 vs 0.73; 2 years: 0.74 vs 0.64) arms, and there was no significant difference between the TAU and PGST arms (1 year: 0.73 vs 0.72; 2 years: 0.64 vs 0.62). Conclusions and Relevance: In this randomized clinical trial, IGST was more effective and had greater treatment retention compared with TAU and PGST. These findings suggest that IGST is the preferred ST format, with high retention and continuation of improvement in BPD severity after the completion of treatment. Trial Registration: trialregister.nl Identifier: NTR2392.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-299
Number of pages13
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


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