• borderline personality disorder;
  • dropout;
  • patient's subjective experience;
  • psychosocial outpatient program;
  • therapeutic relationship

Aim:  The aim of this study was to identify factors that may affect treatment retention in a 1-year psychosocial program for adult personality disorders.

Methods:  The sample consists of patients admitted to the Adult Personality Disorder Outpatient Programme of the Bologna Community Mental Health Centre in the period 2003–2008. At the beginning of the program, patients were evaluated through a comprehensive assessment including sociodemographic form, diagnostic interviews and self-report questionnaires. Patients who dropped out from treatment were retrospectively compared with patients who completed the program.

Results:  Out of 39 patients enrolled in the program, 20 (51.3%) dropped out and 19 (48.7%) completed the treatment. Out of 20 patients who dropped out, 14 terminated the treatment within the first 2 months. The dropout group and the group which remained showed significant differences in diagnosis (borderline personality disorder [BPD]), demographic data (age, time from first contact with psychiatric services), clinical variable (impulsiveness) and subjective experience (motivation, treatment expectation, therapeutic relation perception and barriers to access). BPD and subjective evaluation were found to be predictors of premature termination in the sample. In detail, BPD patients who experienced a less satisfactory therapeutic relationship and reported many external problems were more likely to drop out of the program.

Conclusion:  Important factors contributing to dropout were identified, with potential implication for clinical practice. Further efforts need to be made to find ways to retain BPD patients who find the first subjective experience of the service more problematic.