Bipolar disorder is a biological illness and responds well to medication to correct chemical imbalances in the brain. Like any other chronic illness, education, lifestyle choices, and healthy habits can make the difference in having a great quality of life. This is where psychotherapy in combination with medication can help.
Types of therapy that have been helpful to those with bipolar disorder include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replacing them with healthy ones. For bipolar disorder in particular, your therapist can help you understand your symptoms, learn what triggers your bipolar episodes, and develop effective strategies for managing those triggers.
The extremes of manic and depressive moods can be very hard on family members. During depressive periods, a loved one may largely withdraw from the family and regular activity. During manic periods, impulsive behavior may cause financial and relationship problems. Family therapy helps family members understand their loved one’s illness and develop coping strategies, including recognizing new manic or depressive episodes early, communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
Psychoeducational therapy teaches you and your family about bipolar disorder, how to manage it, how to recognize signs of a relapse, and what to do if a relapse is starting. This therapy draws on your own strengths and empowers you to manage your own recovery. The idea is, the better knowledge you have of your illness and your own capabilities, the better you can live with the condition. This therapy works well with children, adults, and families.
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
The mood extremes of bipolar disorder can be seen as disruptions in our bodies’ normal rhythms. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy focuses on helping you identify and maintain rhythms of everyday life. In this therapy you may keep a regular routine for sleeping, eating, and taking medications. Your therapist may help you notice when interpersonal interactions upset your rhythm. By keeping to a regular routine and problem solving around exceptions to your routine, you can better manage your emotional highs and lows.
In any of these approaches, psychotherapy can help you manage bipolar disorder by helping you to do the following:
- Understand your illness
- Define and achieve healthy goals
- Cope with stress
- Make sense of past traumatic experiences
- Sort out your true self from the mood extremes caused by your illness
- Identify triggers that may make your symptoms worse
- Improve relationships with family and friends
- Establish healthy habits and routines
- Develop a plan in case of crisis
- End destructive habits such as drinking, drugs, risky sex, and spending sprees
Sources: National Institute on Mental Health; Healthguide.org; Mayo Clinic; Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance