Psychotherapy, when added to medications, has been shown to be very beneficial for people with bipolar disorder, and many other types of disorders, too. Medications alone do not always completely address all of the illness-related issues such as anxiety, persistent sub-threshold depression, illness adjustment, adherence to medications, and social and occupational functioning. There are many options in psychotherapy that are helpful for people with bipolar disorder. Multiple approaches using different strategies and tools have been developed.
It is suggested that patients with any type of psychological disorder discuss the best type(s) of therapy for their case with their psychiatrist or other mental healthcare provider. In addition, sometimes people with co-occurring disorders (e.g. PTSD, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, etc.) might find a particular type of therapy most beneficial in addressing more than one need at the same time. Some therapists offer a variety of therapy methods, while others focus on one type. Determining the focus(es) of a therapist, and their experience with the relevant disorder(s) is highly recommended.
Some of the most common types of therapy for people with bipolar disorder include:
- Psychoeducation – Provides patients and/or their families with information about the disorder, teaches self-management skills, and makes patients more able to make informed decisions about their illness management in collaboration with a clinical team.
- Behavioral therapy – Focuses on behaviors that decrease stress.
- Cognitive therapy – Involves learning to identify and modify the patterns of thinking that accompany mood shifts and anxiety issues.
- Interpersonal therapy – Involves relationships and aims to reduce strains that the illness may place upon them.
- Social Rhythm therapy – Often offered in conjunction with Interpersonal therapy, Social Rhythm therapy helps patients develop and maintain a normal sleep schedule and more predictable daily routines.
- Family focused therapy – Combines two forms of psychotherapy: psychoeducation and family therapy. Psychoeducation’s main goal is to teach patients and their families about the nature of their illness. The family therapy focuses on family dynamics and relationships as contributing factors that help or hurt illness.
- Dialectical Behavioral therapy – Though originally designed for people with Borderline Personality disorder, people with bipolar disorder can find benefit from Dialectical Behavioral therapy in managing stressors that can make them more vulnerable to depression and mania. They may also benefit from mindfulness practice and the other skills (i.e. distress tolerance) taught in this therapy.
Peer led support groups – People with bipolar disorder may also find peer or family support groups a helpful addition to their chosen form of therapy. Meetings with peers and/or other family members give members the chance to discuss mental health issues with, and receive support from others who have been in their positions. Groups like Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) follow the premise: “What we say here stays here.” Meetings at DBSA and NAMI are held regularly (usually two or more times per month), are free of charge, and are offered throughout the United States. Support groups are NOT therapy or treatment, 12-step groups, or pity parties.