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What can therapy for bipolar disorder help with?

Effective treatment for bipolar disorder generally has two components: Medication stabilizes moods, thinking, and energy levels, while psychotherapy, as an important adjunct to medication, helps patients gain control of their life. Therapy provides critical information about the nature of the disorder and how to manage it. It enables patients to recognize the situations and experiences that trigger mood switch, to establish routines that decrease the likelihood of mood-switching, to cope with the conflicts the condition often creates in relationships, and to learn skills to limit both the high and low mood swings that are a hallmark of bipolar disorder.

How do therapists treat bipolar disorder?

The first step in treatment is to educate patients about the nature of the disorder in general. However, because the condition varies so much from person to person, understanding one’s particular pattern of mood triggers and mood cycling is often an ongoing process. Therapists typically apply both cognitive and behavioral strategies. For example, they help patients identify disruptive thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A basic behavioral strategy is the introduction of mood monitoring, in which patients record and rate the intensity of their moods. In addition, therapists work with patients to develop behavioral strategies for intervening in manic or depressive episodes.

Who is qualified to treat bipolar disorder?

Mood-stabilizing medication is furnished by a psychiatrist or other medical doctor, psychosocial treatment is usually provided separately, by a psychologist or other licensed mental health practitioner. Look for a mental health specialist who has additional training and experience in treating bipolar disorder. Evidence increasingly shows that psychosocial treatment, involving one of several forms of psychotherapy, is critical for successful management of bipolar disorder.

What should I look for in a therapist to treat bipolar disorder?

Because the bipolar experience varies so much from person to person, it is important to find a therapist who has extensive experience treating the disorder. And since medication and psychotherapy are both necessary for effective treatment, it is advisable to choose a therapist who has a good working relationship with local psychiatrists to discuss issues that will arise and that may indicate the need for change in medication. A good therapist expresses early interest in setting up an emergency plan for handling mood crises and also understands the value of external structure in promoting internal stability.