If you or someone you love is living with bipolar disorder, it’s especially important to seek professional treatment to prevent manic and depressive symptoms from getting worse. Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition, and it’s lifelong in most cases. Without effective treatment, the symptoms of bipolar disorder may worsen and a mood episode can last significantly longer. Mania (extreme highs) can occur for anywhere from 3 to 6 months at a time, and a depressive episode (extreme lows) can commonly last for 6 to 12 months. This is why an early bipolar disorder diagnosis and prompt treatment plan in place is so essential.

If you’re curious about how to treat bipolar disorder, keep reading. We’re discussing effective treatment options, including psychotherapy and ways to treat bipolar disorder at home to enhance treatment effectiveness.

Psychotherapy

How is bipolar disorder treated? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there’s no one single approach to treating bipolar disorder that works for everyone in the same way. That said, there are several types of psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) that have been found to work better than others. 

Let’s look at three types of psychotherapy that are known for their efficacy and are commonly used to help people with bipolar disorder better manage symptoms. 

(Note that therapy can often be especially effective when used in conjunction with medication).

Psychotherapy is an integral component of effective therapy for bipolar disorder. Therapy teaches self-management strategies that can help you experience fewer or less intense mood swings and other bipolar symptoms.

Psychoeducation  

When treating bipolar disorder, psychoeducation involves learning everything you can about this common yet treatable mental health condition. 

Doing deep research, consulting with authoritative sources, asking a therapist direct questions, and learning from others in group therapy sessions can all be effective psychoeducation tactics. 

In short, you want to become an expert on the disorder that affects your life. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to understand how to anticipate and manage symptoms as they come on. 

Family-focused therapy 

Family-focused therapy is an approach to bipolar disorder therapy that brings in members of the family unit so all can learn together how to better anticipate, recognize, and cope with bipolar depression or mania as it arises. 

Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects everyone in a family unit, which is why it can be immensely helpful to get everybody involved and on the same page with an effective treatment plan.

Cognitive behavioral therapy 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is used as a frontline treatment for bipolar disorder. This type of therapy helps you identify and modify negative thinking and behavior patterns. It focuses on self-care, mindfulness, stress regulation, and the ability to stay better connected with yourself.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), cognitive behavioral therapy for bipolar disorder can include ongoing individual therapy along with group therapy. For best results, CBT is typically recommended to optimize long-term results.

“Research from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on therapy for bipolar disorder shows that therapy can significantly support recovering from bipolar depression, managing the symptoms of this disorder, and creating a healthy life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of psychotherapy that looks at how our thoughts impact our feelings, which impact our behaviors, so we can work with a therapist to identify how we can reframe our thoughts, which will change how we feel, and what we do, for the better.”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Medications

Knowing how to treat bipolar disorder involves gaining an understanding of common medications used to decrease the intensity or frequency of symptoms. It’s important to understand that there are various medications used to treat bipolar disorder. It will likely take some time and experimentation to find which one or ones work best for you.

Be aware that many of the medications for bipolar disorder are associated with the possibility of adverse side effects. That’s why it’s so essential you be willing to use medication, therapy, and self-care techniques if you hope to gain the maximum benefit possible from your bipolar disorder treatment plan. Combining treatment modalities offers the best hope that you’ll be able to one day, with the prescribing doctor’s approval, decrease your dosage.

Some of the following medications can be prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. 

Lithium

Lithium has been used in psychology since the mid-19th century. Though its use wasn’t consistent, its popularity increased again in 1949 when it was applied to treat mania. For the last 70 years, lithium has been used to treat depression, mania, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other related conditions.

Is lithium effective for bipolar disorder? It can be. For some people, lithium can help prevent intense highs and lows associated with the condition. However, it’s also linked to thyroid and kidney problems and might have dozens of other possible side effects. It may also interact with numerous other medications, so caution and supervision must be used. 

Anticonvulsants

Anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers are among the various medications prescribed for controlling symptoms of bipolar disorder. They’re also commonly used for treating mood disorders, neuropathic pain, migraines, certain brain disorders, and seizures associated with epilepsy.

Research shows that anticonvulsants have serious but common side effects. For some, the effects can seriously limit the tolerability of these medications. Known side effects might include cognitive impairments such as sedation, gastrointestinal problems, weight gain, and tremors. Though rare, due to hypersensitivity, some people may occasionally experience bone marrow, skin, and hepatic toxicity, liver problems, or skin rashes.  

Anticonvulsants used to treat bipolar disorder: 

  • Depakote
  • Lamictal
  • Depakene
  • Tegretol
  • Topamax

Antidepressants

Antidepressants typically aren’t the first line of treatment, or the only medication used, for bipolar disorder. However, they can be used, especially initially, to control depression until other forms of treatment begin taking effect. The tricky part about the use of antidepressants is that research about their efficacy is inconclusive and even disagrees from study to study.   

SSRIs used to treat bipolar disorder:

  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
  • Prozac

SNRIs used to treat bipolar disorder:

  • Pristiq
  • Cymbalta
  • Effexor

Tetracyclic antidepressant used to treat bipolar disorder:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Norpramin
  • Tofranil

Holistic Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Many people wonder how bipolar is treated using alternative methods (or if it even can be). The answer to this question is yes, many holistic methods can help supplement or perhaps even reduce the need for medication. While collaborating with a therapist is integral for coping with the symptoms of bipolar disorder long-term, what you choose to do in your life while you’re not with a therapist can be even more important.

Knowing how to treat bipolar disorder often involves more than just sticking to a medication protocol or the benefits you gain from working with a therapist. It can include deep personal work for the rest of your life.

Consider various easy-to-employ lifestyle changes you can put into place, beginning today, including:

  • Developing a productive routine and sticking to it every day
  • Drinking plenty of water each day to keep your body hydrated
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation to stay in touch with your thoughts and feelings
  • Eating a healthy diet based on assorted colors of plants, lean meats, and single-ingredient foods
  • Moving your body daily with moderate exertion to stimulate blood flow and lymphatic action
  • Avoiding processed, sugar-loaded, or deep-fried food

Self-care techniques like those listed above can accentuate the positive effects of your medication and therapy. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong challenge to face and conquer. The more you love and care for yourself, the more likely you’ll be to overcome the symptomatic challenges of the condition, so you can live a happy, healthy, productive life.

“While bipolar disorder is a chronic disorder, ensuring you have a great team of mental health professionals to support you is key to living a wonderful life with this disorder. Early intervention and psychotherapy, combined with taking your prescribed medications and healthy stress management, are all extremely important. Know that if you have bipolar disorder, you’re not alone, and there is great support out there for you.”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Find Treatment for Bipolar Disorder with Talkspace

Now that you better understand how to treat bipolar disorder, you know how important it is to reach out to a mental healthcare professional. If you experience intense mood swings that bounce between depression and mania, you should find out if you might be dealing with bipolar disorder. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are key to successful symptom management in the long term. 

An online therapy platform like Talkspace can connect you with an experienced, qualified therapist who’s skilled at treating bipolar disorder. The best part about Talkspace is that it’s therapy, when and how you need it. Convenient, affordable, accessible mental health help that’s designed with you, your schedule, and your needs in mind.