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Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

The Role of Alternative Treatments

A holistic approach to health takes into account all aspects of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. That’s important when treating bipolar disorders because of their far-reaching impact on personal functioning. You can complement pharmaceuticals with some alternative treatments, often reducing the dose and thereby eliminating some of the dangers and side effects carried by many psychiatric medications. This combination approach is called complementary medicine: using the best of what medical science has to offer, and complementing it with less invasive techniques.

Many alternative treatments have a preventive focus, rather than merely treating symptoms of illness after they emerge. Alternative practitioners also stress empowering the patient, making him responsible for self-care measures. Even if all that does is make patients feel better because they’re putting out more effort on their own behalf, the effects can be powerful.

Finally, a few people with bipolar disorders never find full relief from any medication, especially those who are rapid cyclers. Don’t give up on finding a better medication or combination of medications, but if your child has seemingly tried it all for an adequate amount of time without benefit, you may find at least partial relief with a different approach.

Occasionally a patient will have very valid health reasons for giving up pharmaceutical treatments that are actually working. For example, almost all of the medications used to treat bipolar disorders are believed to cause birth defects, so pregnant girls and women who are bipolar can find themselves faced with a terrible choice. Temporary reliance on alternative methods under careful supervision, with a return to the use of effective medication as soon as possible, can protect both the developing fetus and the mother’s health. Should your child develop another serious health condition, such as cancer, conflicting medications might have to be temporarily discontinued during chemotherapy, preparation for surgery, or certain types of medical treatment. So even if alternative treatments are not right for your child now, they might be useful someday.

Alternative treatments rarely produce dramatic changes. When they work, they usually assist your body’s own self-righting mechanisms, promoting better sleep, fewer and less severe mood swings, improved general health, and a better frame of mind.

Evaluating Alternative Interventions

To get the clearest picture possible of any alternative interventions, you must introduce them independently of each other, and independent of pharmaceuticals or therapeutic interventions. Obviously, this will often be impractical–you wouldn’t stop lithium just to see if B vitamins might be useful.

Barring the one-thing-at-a-time scenario, keep careful, daily records of supplements and dietary changes you introduce, when they are given and in what amounts, what brands you used, and any visible effects that you observe. If after four to six weeks you have not seen improvements with a supplement, it’s unlikely that it will be of benefit. Dietary changes, bodywork, and other interventions may take much longer to bear fruit.

Remember that many parents report initial problems with supplements and dietary changes, and some children may be resistant to bodywork at first as well. Don’t gloss over dangerous side effects, but expect to weather some behavior problems for a couple of weeks.

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Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

If you can convince your physician to make alternative therapies part of his prescription, you’re in luck. Some actively oppose them, and that may force you to find a new doctor. Whatever you do, don’t operate behind your doctor’s back in any significant way. If you’re philosophically incompatible, you should simply part ways — but you need a medical expert on your team.

Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

Sherrie Mcgregor, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Mcgregor, S. (2020). Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.