Background and goals: Research on adolescent personality development has been limited and often bases its premises on studies of adult behavior. Growing awareness of the vicissitudes of adolescent development details the developmental pathway between childhood and adulthood and recognizes its unique dimensions. There has been a five-fold increase in empirical studies examining borderline personality disorder (BPD) in adolescents over the last ten years with BPD cited as a general factor of personality pathology. There is a need for practical assessment tools that can measure personality functioning and pathology and can be used by practicing clinicians. Since DSM utilizes adult criteria for the assessment of personality during adolescence it fails to recognize the specific developmental characteristics of PDs, because observable behaviors quickly change while the personality organization could remain more stable or arrested. Recently, a consistent effort has been made in promoting a psychodynamic oriented assessment of PDs even during adolescence, stressing the difference between personality organization and PD considering three domains which have also a neurobiological relevance (1) identity formation, (2) interpersonal relations (3) affect regulation.
Method: This article describes the use of a semi-structured interview, the Interview of Personality Organization Processes in Adolescence (IPOP-A), in the school setting. We present a series of case vignettes to illustrate how it can be employed to assess personality functioning, and also how it can be used to help promote self-reflection in adolescents.
Conclusions: The IPOP-A offers a valid and reliable psychoanalytically oriented empirical instrument highlighting the stages and tasks of adolescence. It addresses functioning in three essential contexts: home (family), peers (social, interpersonal), and school. The interview has proven valuable both with clinical and normal subjects. This article emphasizes adolescence as a second opportunity for self-other development emphasizing change in perspective and behavior. Not all adolescents are the same and the multiple processes of development during this period focus on increasing awareness of self-other, self-regulation and self-determination. The IPOP-A seems to be a promising tool useful in the clinical assessment and in-take sessions with adolescence with emerging patterns of personality pathology and in the field of adolescent personality development research.