In Part I of Building Your Bipolar Disorder Treatment Team, we looked at the roles of your primary care physician and psychiatrist. They act as the core of the team and are the ones you will rely on most often. However, there is more support to be had in adding more members to the team.
You may not always need a therapist. There may be periods when you feel like life is going fine and you’re handling yourself quite well. There will also be times when you do need extra support. You may be going through a difficult time in one or more aspects of your life like family or work, or you may just be having a hard time dealing with your symptoms. Your therapist is there to provide you tools that can help you cope.
Your first appointment with a therapist will be fairly similar to your psychiatrist intake appointment. You’ll go over medical and family history as well as the current treatment plan from your psychiatrist before you dig in.
There are several kinds of therapy available. The most common type for bipolar disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy. Your therapist will be able to point out patterns in your thoughts or actions that are having a negative impact on your life and teach you skills on how to handle and improve on them.
Your Mental Health Social Worker
A lot of people with bipolar disorder are not able to remain high-functioning. This includes the ability to follow your treatment plan, maintain employment (whether full or part-time), meet financial and social responsibilities and having a support system in place.
When bipolar disorder overtakes you and you’re not able to meet those seemingly high standards, you may need the help of a mental health social worker. This treatment team member will be in contact with your other treatment team members to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding your mental health status as well as your quality of life. These people are trained not only to understand bipolar disorder, but to help you cope with the practical aspects of life that most people take for granted.
Your mental health social worker will be your partner and advocate. You will set goals together and work through your treatment together. They help you maintain your treatment plan by figuring out the way that works best for you. Need help remembering to take your meds? They’ll call you. Need transportation to and from therapy? They help you arrange it. They can also help you find and attend support groups such as addiction counseling or group therapy.
Other responsibilities your social worker will take on include helping you fill out forms and applications. If you are able to work, your social worker can help you find a job and fill out the application. They will know or find out if you are eligible for government programs or assistance like social security, disability or food stamps. They can help ensure any other legal documents are taken care of as well.
Their goal is to help you live as normal of a life as possible.
Caregivers are basically non-professional social workers, usually friends or family members. They have no formal training, yet commit to being your social support in dealing with this lifelong and difficult illness. They’re there for every level of functioning, whether high or low. They want to be there for your ups and downs and everything in between. They are your buffer.
Together you and your caregiver should educate yourselves about bipolar disorder. This helps the person doing the caregiving to know what to expect during and in between episodes and helps you prepare yourself to recognize your symptoms so you know how to deal with them or when to get outside help.
It’s a hard job and it requires everyone to do the best they can and to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt that they are too. It gets hard, but family therapy is always an option.
After all, we’re all in this together.
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