Research indicates that people who take medications for bipolar disorder are more likely to get better faster and stay well if they also receive therapy. Therapy can teach you how to deal with problems your symptoms are causing, including relationship, work, and self-esteem issues. Therapy will also address any other problems you’re struggling with, such as substance abuse or anxiety.
Three types of therapy are especially helpful in the treatment of bipolar disorder:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
- Family-focused therapy
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, you examine how your thoughts affect your emotions. You also learn how to change negative thinking patterns and behaviors into more positive ways of responding. For bipolar disorder, the focus is on managing symptoms, avoiding triggers for relapse, and problem-solving.
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
Interpersonal therapy focuses on current relationship issues and helps you improve the way you relate to the important people in your life. By addressing and solving interpersonal problems, this type of therapy reduces stress in your life. Since stress is a trigger for bipolar disorder, this relationship-oriented approach can help reduce mood cycling.
For bipolar disorder, interpersonal therapy is often combined with social rhythm therapy. People with bipolar disorder are believed to have overly sensitive biological clocks, the internal timekeepers that regulate circadian rhythms. This clock is easily thrown off by disruptions in your daily pattern of activity, also known as your “social rhythms.” Social rhythm therapy focuses on stabilizing social rhythms such as sleeping, eating, and exercising. When these rhythms are stable, the biological rhythms that regulate mood remain stable too.
Living with a person who has bipolar disorder can be difficult, causing strain in family and marital relationships. Family-focused therapy addresses these issues and works to restore a healthy and supportive home environment. Educating family members about the disease and how to cope with its symptoms is a major component of treatment. Working through problems in the home and improving communication is also a focus of treatment.
Most alternative treatments for bipolar disorder are really complementary treatments, meaning they should be used in conjunction with medication, therapy, and lifestyle modification. Here are a few of the options that are showing promise:
- Light and dark therapy – Like social rhythm therapy, light and dark therapy focuses on the sensitive biological clock in people with bipolar disorder. This easily disrupted clock throws off sleep-wake cycles, a disturbance that can trigger symptoms of mania and depression. Light and dark therapy for bipolar disorder regulates these biological rhythms—and thus reduces mood cycling— by carefully managing your exposure to light. The major component of this therapy involves creating an environment of regular darkness by restricting artificial light for ten hours every night.
- Mindfulness meditation – Research has shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and meditation help fight and prevent depression, anger, agitation, and anxiety. The mindfulness approach uses meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises to focus awareness on the present moment and break negative thinking patterns.
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture is currently being studied as a complementary treatment for bipolar disorder. Some researchers believe that it may help people with bipolar disorder by modulating their stress response. Studies on acupuncture for depression have shown a reduction in symptoms, and there is increasing evidence that acupuncture may relieve symptoms of mania also.