Therapy for Bipolar Disorder: Everything You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed By Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS

Therapy can help people living with bipolar disorder. The range of therapies includes cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy.  This article explains the range of therapies used to treat bipolar disorder. It also details other treatments, including medications and alternative treatments, and offers self-help tips. 

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Family-focused therapy (FFT)

Family-focused therapy (FFT) involves a mental health professional working with you and those closest to you. FFT typically lasts around 12 sessions. The therapy focuses on the areas that you and your loved ones may need support on, such as: 

  • deepening the understanding of bipolar disorder
  • gaining an understanding of the symptoms, especially early signs of new episodes 
  • strengthening communication
  • gaining an understanding of the support available
  • discussing how to manage a crisis
  • helping to improve mental and emotional health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is generally effective in the management of bipolar disorder. The therapy helps people to change their patterns of thinking that may often be negative. It also teaches practical steps and techniques to change how you think, feel, and react.  

A meta-analysis from 2017 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source looked at 19 controlled studies. The studies included 1,384 patients with type I or II bipolar disorder. The results showed that CBT could:

  • reduce the relapse rate 
  • improve depressive symptoms
  • increase psychological and social functioning 
  • decrease the level of mania they experienced

Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT)

IPSRT focuses on improving a person’s mood by balancing and scheduling their routines. Areas focused on are sleeping, eating patterns, and activities during the day. 

This therapy also helps to plan how to manage any changes or disruptions that may occur. For example, changes at work, in a relationship, or when taking a vacation. 

Focusing on a routine and managing daily activities may help reduce the chances of a new episode from occurring. 

IPSRT also supports the person to talk about their experience of having bipolar disorder and come to terms with the diagnosis. 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a psychotherapy similar to cognitive behavior therapy. 

It is useful in helping someone with bipolar disorder to regulate their thoughts and emotions. The therapy can teach new skills to help manage everyday situations.

Dialectical behavior explores mindfulness techniques and acceptance skills which can help you learn:

  • mindfulness
  • emotion regulation
  • distress tolerance skills

It can also help with improving your overall mental well-being and emotional reactivity.

Dialectical behavior therapy can take place in group or individual sessions.

Psychoeducation

Psychoeducation focuses on improving quality of life, maintaining treatment plans, and reducing the chances of a relapse. 

Psychoeducation can happen in group sessions, individually, or online. 

Group sessions may involve people sharing their stories. This can offer support to those who have a similar experience. The sessions can provide a sense of community and may decrease any feelings of loneliness. 

The therapy provides information about bipolar disorder, available treatments, and any coping strategies for the person with bipolar disorder and their loved ones. 

Psychoeducation can be helpful in understanding when the early symptoms of a depressive or manic episode begin to occur. 

The therapy can help someone come to terms with a bipolar disorder diagnosis and the stigma attached to the illness. Psychoeducation can also help in: 

  • managing stress
  • problem-solving
  • taking medication
  • living a healthy lifestyle 

Other treatments for bipolar disorder

Alongside therapy, bipolar disorder is often treated with medication and sometimes alternative treatments.

Treatment plans vary. Work closely with your mental health professional to develop a plan for you. 

Medications

Medications such as mood stabilizers and atypical antipsychotics may help Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Other medications can help with sleep issues or reduce anxiety levels. 

Medications for bipolar disorder include:

  • lithium
  • anticonvulsant medicines
  • second-generation antipsychotics

Alternative treatments

Alternative treatments are often used alongside other medications and therapies, which can include: 

  • Mindfulness: This allows you to observe the present moment without letting your emotions affect you. It can increase your self-awareness and help you to deal with negative thoughts and feelings. 
  • Light therapy: This therapy can lift your mood. It can help Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source with bipolar disorder, as many people experience depressive symptoms during the winter months.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements: Some evidence shows that omega-3 fatty acids may work with mood stabilizers. Taking vitamin D with omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce depressive symptoms. 
  • Acupuncture: This can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and may help you sleep. 

Self-help tips for living with bipolar disorder

There are things you can do to help you manage your condition. These self-help tips include:

  • Decide on and keep a routine. Keep a structured routine for sleeping, eating, and exercising.
  • Get support. Allow friends and family you trust to support you. They may be able to help you notice the early signs of an episode. You may also wish to attend a support group with other people who have bipolar disorder. 
  • Stick to the treatment plan. Take medications your doctor has recommended and attend any therapy sessions you have planned. 
  • Reduce stress levels. Lowering your stress levels may help to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a manic or depressive episode. 
  • Record your moods. Writing down when your mood will change can help you plan. 

Summary

Various forms of therapy can help treat bipolar disorder and manage the symptoms.

Therapies for bipolar disorder include psychoeducation, dialectical behavioral therapy, and family-focused therapy. 

Other treatment options include medications and alternative treatments such as acupuncture, light therapy, and mindfulness. 

Speak with your mental health professional about possible therapies to help you manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

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  2. Chiang, K.-J., et al. (2017). Efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients with bipolar disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5417606/
  3. Different types of therapy for bipolar disorder. (2019). https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/April-2019/Different-Types-of-Therapy-for-Bipolar-Disorder
  4. Eisner, L., et al. (2017). Dialectical behavior therapy group skills training for bipolar disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6145450/
  5. Frank, E., et al. (2022). Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.31887/DCNS.2007.9.3/efrank
  6. Types of complementary and alternative therapies. (2022). https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/complementary-and-alternative-therapies/types-of-complementary-and-alternative-therapies/ 
  7. Yatham, L. N., et al. (2018). Canadian Network for mood and anxiety treatments. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bdi.12609

Medical Reviewer: Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 12
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