Background. Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are frequently claimed to be brief, less severe and qualitatively different from those in schizophrenia, hence the term 'pseudohallucinations'. AVH in BPD may be more similar to those experienced by healthy individuals, who experience AVH in a lower frequency and with a more positive content than AVH in schizophrenia. In this study the phenomenology of AVH in BPD patients was compared to that in schizophrenia and to AVH experienced by non-patients.
Method. In a cross-sectional setting, the phenomenological characteristics of AVH in 38 BPD patients were compared to those in 51 patients with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder and to AVH of 66 non-patients, using the Psychotic Symptom Rating Scales (PSYRATS).
Results. BPD patients experienced AVH for a mean duration of 18 years, with a mean frequency of at least daily lasting several minutes or more. The ensuing distress was high. No differences in the phenomenological characteristics of AVH were revealed among patients diagnosed with BPD and those with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, except for 'disruption of life', which was higher in the latter group. Compared to non-patients experiencing AVH, BPD patients had higher scores on almost all items.
Conclusions. AVH in BPD patients are phenomenologically similar to those in schizophrenia, and different from those in healthy individuals. As AVH in patients with BPD fulfil the criteria of hallucinations proper, we prefer the term AVH over 'pseudohallucinations', so as to prevent trivialization and to promote adequate diagnosis and treatment.