As an addition to medication, psychosocial treatments—including certain forms of psychotherapy (or “talk” therapy)—are helpful in providing support, education, and guidance to people with bipolar disorder and their families. Studies have shown that psychosocial interventions can lead to increased mood stability, fewer hospitalizations, and improved functioning in several areas.
A licensed psychologist, social worker, or counselor typically provides these therapies and often works together with the psychiatrist to monitor a patient’s progress. The number, frequency, and type of sessions should be based on the treatment needs of each person.
Psychosocial interventions commonly used for bipolar disorder are cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, family therapy, and a newer technique, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy. NIMH researchers are studying how these interventions compare to one another when added to medication treatment for bipolar disorder.
* Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people with bipolar disorder learn to change inappropriate or negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with the illness.
* Psychoeducation involves teaching people with bipolar disorder about the illness and its treatment, and how to recognize signs of relapse so that early intervention can be sought before a full-blown illness episode occurs. Psychoeducation also may be helpful for family members.
* Family therapy uses strategies to reduce the level of distress within the family that may either contribute to or result from the ill person’s symptoms.
* Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy helps people with bipolar disorder both to improve interpersonal relationships and to regularize their daily routines. Regular daily routines and sleep schedules may help protect against manic episodes.
* As with medication, it is important to follow the treatment plan for any psychosocial intervention to achieve the greatest benefit.