Diagnosing Histrionic Personality Disorder

Histrionic personality disorder is a condition characterized by attention-seeking behaviors and inappropriate social interactions. Like other personality disorders, HPD can be tricky to diagnose because its symptoms manifest behaviorally instead of physically. Despite this issue, psychologists have developed a rudimentary system for determining whether a patient is suffering from the condition.

Criteria for Diagnosis

The American Psychological Association offers the following symptoms as potential indicators of histrionic personality disorder:

  • The urge to be the center of attention in every social interaction
  • Inappropriate sexual or seductive behavior
  • Constantly changing and shallow emotions
  • Overly dramatic behavior or speech
  • Gullibility or a desire to please people
  • Misjudging intimacy within a relationship
  • Using physical appearance a means of getting attention

The Diagnostic Process

Diagnosing HPD can vary, but it will normally include a psychological evaluation and analysis of a person’s behavior. Most mental health professionals believe that a semi-structured interview is the most effective way of conducting a diagnostic evaluation, but more qualitatively inclined psychologists may opt for a completely unstructured interview as well.

Diagnosis Difficulties

There is currently no approved test to confirm a diagnosis of HPD, which means that individual mental health professionals have the final word on their patients’ conditions. This leads to a lack of consistency in determining what actually constitutes histrionic personality disorder, often resulting in misdiagnosis.

Additionally, the symptoms associated with HPD are highly subjective, and therefore are subject to interpretation by psychologists. This can hypothetically lead professionals who are either more likely or more reluctant to make the diagnosis than others. For example, what a person deems sexually inappropriate behavior depends on a lot of factors such as upbringing and life experiences. This leads to personal beliefs and ideologies unavoidably bleeding into the diagnosis process. Because psychology typically views itself as an objective science, this can be problematic.

Finally, diagnosis can be difficult since patients who legitimately suffer from histrionic personality disorder are inclined to exaggerate their symptoms and the problems they pose—making it difficult to get an accurate assessment.

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