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Types of Therapy Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder: Part I

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to treat. Despite the variety of medications taken on a regular basis, people still suffer from depressive and manic episodes. Even time between episodes can be difficult when there are still depressive symptoms or problems with cognitive functioning. Because of this, many people with bipolar disorder need to seek additional help. Most of the time that comes in the form of psychotherapy. This can be a challenging process, however. Finding the right fit is crucial to getting the best results. Part of finding the right fit is figuring out which type of therapy is right for you.

Psychotherapy is not just sitting in a room with a stranger and their clipboard and spouting off problems from your childhood. Some of that does happen, but the goal of therapy is to learn constructive ways to deal with issues in your life. That might mean resolving issues from childhood or it might be learning coping mechanisms for what you’re dealing with in the here and now. There are at least five different types of psychotherapy being used to treat bipolar disorder, each with their own direction in how to achieve this goal.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to be short-term talk therapy with the goal of changing thinking or behavior patterns in a positive way. CBT usually lasts between 5-10 months. Patients attend one 50-minute session per week. During these sessions they are taught how to identify distorted thinking and negative behavior then how to modify these beliefs and behaviors to be more constructive.

Most studies have found positive results in treating bipolar disorder patients with CBT. It helps delay relapse, improves medication adherence and psychosocial functioning. Episodes are generally shorter and there are fewer hospital admissions. However, CBT is not as effective during acute depressive phases as during manic phases or periods between episodes.

Family-focused Treatment
In family-focused treatment (FFT), the patient and one or more family members attend regularly scheduled sessions over a period of nine months. During those sessions family members are educated about bipolar disorder and taught listening and speaking skills. They also brainstorm regarding potential problems and solutions that may arise during the course of illness, such as what to do in case of an episode.

Family-focused treatment has been found to reduce patient symptoms and increase healthy behavior, especially in households with higher levels of hostility, criticism and emotional over-involvement of caregivers. Patients who complete FFT have lower rates of recurrence and longer periods of wellness compared to those who are only treated with pharmacotherapy or crisis management. FFT is also effective at improving the mental health of family members and caregivers.



These are only two types of therapy used to treat those with bipolar disorder. Next time we’ll discuss a few more.



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Image credit: Richard Summers

Types of Therapy Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder: Part I

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2017). Types of Therapy Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder: Part I. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 16, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-laid-bare/2017/06/types-of-therapy-used-to-treat-bipolar-disorder-part-i/


Last updated: 13 Jun 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jun 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.