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Psychotherapy and Bipolar Disorder

Most play therapists work in a clinic or school setting, and use toys, games, and art supplies in their practice. For example, they might employ dolls or stuffed animals to help a young child talk about conflicts in the home, or they might use animal figures and a sand table to model desirable behaviors. With older children, art-based activities may be more interesting and a better communication tool. Communication, of course, is the goal. Parents might or might not be part of the play therapy session.

Because it’s play-based, this type of therapy is best suited for preschool or grade school children. Activity choices should be based on the child’s developmental level.

Be sure that your child is comfortable with the play therapist, or not much will get done in their sessions together. Talk to the therapist in advance about your child’s diagnosis and what areas you hope can be worked on. Many play therapists are highly experienced at working with traumatized children, but may not know how to work with a child whose problems are neurological in nature.

Incorporating some floor-time play therapy techniques into your daily activities with a young child is a great idea. If your child’s therapist uses this method, ask if she can train you as part of her work with your child. If not, see if training is available from a parent education group, or consult Dr. Greenspan’s books for ideas.

Family Therapy

A family is a group formed by individuals for their mutual benefit, with each member having his or her own personality, needs, and desires. Whenever one member of the group is ill or in emotional distress, it affects all the other members.

Family therapists work with the entire family together, although they may also see some members individually. They see the family as a system; probably not a perfect one (whose is?), but a system that at least tries to meet everyone’s needs. The therapist helps each member express his or her fears, angers, and wishes, and then helps the family restructure itself in healthier ways.

You don’t have to be the classic dysfunctional family to benefit from family therapy. Meeting as a group with a therapist can help a lot, even if only one person’s behavior is seriously disordered. In fact, this approach is strongly recommended for the families of children with bipolar disorders, even if the child is seeing an individual therapist. In family therapy sessions, you’ll have a safe place to talk about your frustrations, and to develop strategies for helping your child without neglecting the needs of parents and siblings. Without this opportunity, family members can undergo severe stress.

My mother said she almost had a nervous breakdown watching me disintegrate from a 4.0 student-body president to someone who couldn’t finish a single verbal sentence, choose something to eat, or really do much at all except stay in bed and complain a lot. I think I was putting a lot of pressure on her by constantly turning to her for help that she could never give. Our relationship went through the toughest time when I was hospitalized. It took years to heal the wound that occurred from this. It wasn’t until years later that I found out they weren’t at all accurate with the information they were giving her.
–Troy, age 30 (diagnosed bipolar I disorder at age 17)

Manic depression is very hard for families to handle, and yet a strong support system is essential for bipolar children. Clinical experience has shown that the more patients, their parents, and even their siblings know about bipolar disorders, the better their prognosis is. That should mean fewer hospitalizations, better medication compliance, and fewer serious legal and educational problems.

Psychotherapy and Bipolar Disorder

Sherrie Mcgregor, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Mcgregor, S. (2020). Psychotherapy and Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 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.