Several reports suggest that group psychotherapy can be successful for the treatment of dependent personality disorder. Montgomery used group therapy for dependent patients who used medications for chronic complaints such as insomnia and nervousness. All but 3 of 30 patients eventually discontinued medications and began to confront their anger at being dependent on the therapist.
Sadoff and Collins administered weekly group psychotherapy to 22 patients who stuttered, most of whom had passive-dependent traits. Although the dropout rate was high, the authors found that the interpretation of passive-dependent behavior and attitudes (e.g., asking for help, believing that others are responsible for helping them) as a defense against recognizing and expressing anger proved helpful. Both stuttering and passive dependency improved in 2 patients who became angry and were able to confront their anger.
Torgersen studied college students who attended a weekend-long encounter group. On follow-up several weeks later, individuals who initially scored high on dependent traits had mixed responses. Although the group experience left them feeling disturbed and anxious, they also reported becoming more accepting of their own feelings and opinions. No other changes were found.
Attrition tends to be higher in group than in individual therapy for personality disorders but may be less of a problem for individuals with dependent personality disorder. Budman et al. reported moderate improvements after an 18-month group for personality disorders (10% with dependent personality disorder), with some changes not beginning until after 6 months.
These reports suggest the usefulness of group psychotherapy for dependent personality disorder. Most clinicians use weekly sessions of an hour to an hour and a half. Treatment generally lasts several years.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD