John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

Personality Disorders Exercise

In this exercise, I divide the students into small groups (3 to 7) and give them two handouts. The first describes how various people, each with a different personality disorder, behaves at a party. The second handout lists the DSM-IV symptoms of various personality disorders. The student's task is to "diagnose" each of the characters at the party. After the groups are finished, we discuss the results.

Handout 1

...imagine a party where all the people had


personality disordersDonna danced into the party and immediately became the center of attention. With sweeping gestures of her arms and dramatic displays of emotion, she boasted about her career as an actress in a local theater group. During a private conversation, a friend inquired about the rumors that she was having some difficulties in her marriage. In an outburst of anger, she denied any problems and claimed that her marriage was "as wonderful and charming as ever." Shortly thereafter, while drinking her second martini, she fainted and had to be taken home.

William wandered into the party, but didn't stay long. The "negative forces" in the room were unsettling to his "psychic soul-spot." The few guests he spoke to felt somewhat uneasy being with this aloof "space cadet."

Sherry paraded into the party drunk and continued to drink throughout the night. Laughing and giggling, she flirted with many of the men and to two of them expressed her "deep affection." Twice during the evening she disappeared for almost half an hour, each time with a different man. After a violent argument with one of them, because he took "too long" to get her a drink, she locked herself into the bathroom and attempted to swallow a bottle of aspirin. Her friends encouraged her to go home, but she was afraid to be alone in her apartment.

Winston spent most of the time talking about his trip to Europe, his new Mercedes, and his favorite French restaurants. People seemed bored being around him, but he kept right on talking. When he made a critical remark about how one of the woman was dressed - and hurt her feelings - he could not apologize for his obvious blunder. He tried to talk his way around it, and even seemed to be blaming her for being upset.

Peter arrived at the party exactly on time. He made a point of speaking to every guest for five minutes. He talked mostly about technology and finance, and avoided any inquiries about his feelings or personal life. He left precisely at 10 PM because he had work to do at home.

Before entering, Doreen watched the party for several minutes from outside through the window. Once she went in, she seemed very uncomfortable. When people tried to be nice to her, she looked guarded and distrustful. People quickly became uncomfortable with her habit of finding fault with everything little thing you said or did. She seemed to be picking fights with people. She didn't stay very long at the party.

Margie didn't come to the party, even though she promised the hostess that she would bring the ice. The hostess was very upset that everyone had warm drinks.

Harold wasn't invited to the party. No one really knows him very well because he rarely talks. In fact, he spends most of his time alone at home reading.

Handout 2

DSM Characteristics of Several Personality Disorders

Match up the following disorders with the descriptions of the party:

Paranoid: suspicious, argumentative, paranoid, continually on the lookout for trickery and abuse, jealous, tendency to blame others, cold and humorless

Schizoid: has few friends; a "loner"; indifferent to praise and criticism of others; unable to form close relationships; no warm or tender feelings for other people

Sociopath: breaks rules and laws; takes advantage of other people for personal gain; feels little remorse or guilt; appears friendly and charming on the surface; often intelligent

Schizotypal: also aloof and indifferent like the schizoid; magical thinking; superstitious beliefs; uses unusual words and has peculiar ideas; a very mild form of schizophrenia

Borderline: very unstable relationships; erratic emotions; self- damaging behavior; impulsive; unpredictable aggressive and sexual behavior; monophobia; easily angered

Histrionic: overly dramatic; attention seekers; easily angered; seductive; dependent on others; vain, shallow, and manipulative; displays intense, but often false emotions

Narcissistic: grandiose; crave admiration of others; extremely self-centered; feel they are privileged and special; expects favors from others; emotions are not erratic

Compulsive: perfectionists; preoccupied with details, rules, schedules; more concerned about work than pleasure; serious and formal; cannot express tender feelings

Passive-Aggressive: indirectly expresses anger by being forgetful and stubborn; procrastinates; cannot admit to feeling angry; habitually late

Suggested answers:

Donna=hystrionic, William=schizotypal, Sherry=borderline, Winston=narcissistic, Peter=compulsive, Doreen=paranoid, Margie=passive-aggressive, Harold=schizoid

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