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DSM-5 Personality Disorders & Diagnosis

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  • 0:00 Personality Disorders
  • 0:52 General Criteria for Diagnosis
  • 3:24 Specific Types
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Personality disorders are specific types of psychological disorders that involve unhealthy personality traits. In this lesson, we'll examine how psychologists diagnose personality disorders, including the different clusters of disorders and behavioral characteristics associated with each.

Personality Disorders

Jenny has a problem. She thinks she's better, prettier, and smarter than everyone else. She insists that she's always right, and if others correct her she gets very angry and defensive. If she wants something, she'll do whatever it takes to get it, even if others get hurt. Jenny's friends think that she might have a personality disorder, which is a psychological disorder that involves unhealthy and rigid patters of thinking and behavior. There are many different types of personality disorders, all of which look a little different.

So does Jenny have a personality disorder? To figure that out, let's pretend we're Jenny's psychologist and look at how we can diagnose personality disorders and what the different disorders are.

General Criteria for Diagnosis

Okay, so we are Jenny's psychologist, and she comes to us because her friends say she might have a personality disorder. Is it true? To diagnose Jenny, we turn to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also called the DSM, which is the book that psychologists use to diagnose clients with mental illness. It's put out by the American Psychological Association and has gone through several different versions. The current version is the DSM-5. So, what does the DSM-5 tell us about personality disorders? To diagnose someone like Jenny with a personality disorder, they have to meet certain criteria. This includes:

1. Significant impairments in self and interpersonal functioning that are constant over time and situations.

That is, people with personality disorders have trouble controlling themselves and relating to others. For example, if Jenny is willing to hurt others to get what she wants, then she is demonstrating impairments in self and interpersonal functioning.

2. A problem with pathological personality traits that is consistent across time and situations.

This means that a person's personality negatively impacts their life. For example, if Jenny is unable to succeed at school or at work because she is always arguing or attacking people who say she's not correct, then it could mean that she has a pathological personality trait.

Notice, that with these first two criteria, it is important that they are consistent across time and situations. We all have bad days, and we all have people or situations that bring out the worst in us. For behavior to indicate a personality disorder, though, the person has to behave that way regularly; most, or all of the time.

3. The issues are not normal for the person's age or society.

If Jenny is three years old, we'd expect that she might throw a temper tantrum from time to time. But if she's thirty, it would be considered odd if she regularly threw fits. Likewise, different societies see behaviors as positive or negative, so cultural differences should be taken into consideration.

4. The issues are not due to drugs or medication, or a medical condition.

If Jenny's issues are because she's on a certain medication or if she's acting strangely because she's had a head injury, then she likely doesn't have a personality disorder.

Specific Types

Okay, let's say that, based on the general criteria in the DSM-5 we think Jenny might have a personality disorder, but which one? There are ten personality disorders divided into three clusters. The disorders in each cluster resemble others in the same cluster in general ways. The three clusters are:

  1. Cluster A - odd and eccentric personality traits
  2. Cluster B - dramatic, emotional, and/or erratic personality traits
  3. Cluster C - anxious and fearful personality traits

To help us diagnose Jenny, let's look at each cluster more closely.

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