For decades, prescription medications were used as first-line treatments for how to treat bipolar disorder. However, research now shows that long-term success rates for treating bipolar disorder with only mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety meds, and antidepressants are relatively low. Additionally, adverse side effects remain a problem for many people. There’s good news, though. Studies show that combining structured psychotherapy (talk therapy) with bipolar medication can reduce the time it takes to see positive treatment response by as much as 150%!
Read on to learn about five different therapies for bipolar disorder that are known to be effective for bipolar symptom management. They may even help reduce your need for or improve the results of prescription drugs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a widely used therapy for bipolar disorder. It involves restructuring thoughts and behaviors to produce better outcomes in your life. When you use CBT, you learn how to be mindful of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that might be resulting in inappropriate or negative reactions.
One effective strategy that’s used in this type of bipolar disorder therapy includes role playing, which prepares you to face potentially difficult or problematic interactions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy also often incorporates various techniques for calming the mind and relaxing the body, like:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Spending time in nature
- Enjoying creative outlets like music, poetry, art, and dance
CBT for bipolar disorder is known to have multiple benefits, including:
- Increased stabilization of mood
- Improved cognitive and behavioral skills
- Increased awareness of triggers
- Improved ability to manage manic and depressive symptoms more effectively
Many people who live with bipolar disorder find that cognitive behavioral therapy helps them remain productive at work, improves their interpersonal relationships, and enhances their overall quality of life.
According to 2021 research, CBT is a unique type of therapy for treating bipolar disorder. It’s a flexible approach that’s beneficial across all of the stages seen in the disorder, with the exception of acute mania.
Overall, evidence supports using cognitive behavioral therapy for bipolar disorder because it can help ease bipolar disorder symptoms, improve cooperation with drug treatment protocols, help you recognize developing manic or depressive symptoms and take action to prevent them, and help treat comorbid (additional) conditions.
“CBT helps identify negative thoughts and how they impact behaviors. When a person is depressed, they tend to engage in negative thinking more often. CBT can help challenge those cognitive distortions and replace negative thoughts with more positive ones.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a subtype of cognitive behavioral therapy. It was originally developed to treat people living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and people who were chronically suicidal. Today, this transdiagnostic modular treatment protocol is the standard for treating various conditions, including eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, drug addiction, and bipolar disorder.
Dialectical behavioral therapy is based on four key components:
- Distress tolerance
- Emotion regulation
- Interpersonal effectiveness
Research shows mounting evidence that bipolar disorder can cause difficulty with emotion regulation. DBT can directly target this symptom, thus making it a likely effective adjunct cognitive therapy modality to help improve emotion regulation.
“DBT can help someone with a bipolar diagnosis manage their negative emotions and tolerate distress. Individuals with bipolar can be impulsive and lack insight, and both of these can be addressed through DBT.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
Family-Focused Therapy (FFT)
Family-focused therapy for bipolar disorder teaches family members to be aware of the warning signs of both mania and depression. In addition to awareness and education, a therapist will also work with families to enhance group communication skills.
The goal is to increase open communication in the household, improve trust levels between family members, and make everybody part of the same team. This can ultimately allow everyone to identify manic symptoms or depressive symptoms easier and earlier. A proactive approach like this can often prevent or lessen the severity of the manic or depressive episode.
Unfortunately, many people with bipolar disorder choose not to involve family in their therapy. They might want to deal with their condition on their own in an effort to not burden their loved ones or they are estranged from their family. However, it can be so beneficial for the entire family to get involved in therapy if possible.
“In FFT, families are educated on the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder so that when the diagnosed person exhibits these symptoms, the family can step in and support them.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT)
IPSRT therapy for bipolar disorder is typically used as an adjunct therapy, using specific techniques to improve stress management skills, decrease social rhythm disruption, and better-ensure medication compliance. You’ll learn novel skills to help prevent future episodes of mania or depression, or at least decrease frequency and severity when a mood episode does occur.
Using interpersonal and social rhythm therapy can also help you understand your triggers. Sometimes triggers can center around routine habits like the foods you eat, how active you are, and how well you sleep.
According to research, the goal of IPSRT is to increase regularity of daily routines, including addressing erratic sleep/wake cycles, ensuring consistency of meal times, and establishing beneficial rest/activity habits.
Many people with bipolar disorder find it helpful to get together with a group of other people who live with the condition. Most types of bipolar disorder therapy encourage group psychoeducation. It focuses on enhancing an ability to remain mindful and aware of your thoughts and feelings so you can behave appropriately, regardless of the situation.
According to researchers, group therapy can be extremely successful and beneficial in preventing relapse. More research is still needed, but it’s a hopeful form of bipolar disorder treatment to add into your overall care plan.
Finding a Therapist for Bipolar Disorder
We understand how difficult it can be to admit you need help. Many people with bipolar disorder feel a sense of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about their condition. It’s so important for you to understand that seeking help can be the first step in managing your condition. You can gain new skills and learn effective coping mechanisms that will help you progress through your life with fewer episodes and, ultimately, more happiness.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that’s difficult to treat. It’s a condition that affects people for life, but it is treatable. It’s crucial that you explore ways you can complement medication protocols with the use of ongoing online therapy and bipolar disorder natural treatment.
Committing to working with a mental health professional who specializes in therapies for bipolar disorder can be a life-changing decision. You can get help for your bipolar disorder diagnosis, and you deserve that. Don’t wait any longer to start — you don’t have to let bipolar disorder rule your life.