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Psychotherapy and Self-Help for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is usually considered a long-term, often chronic mental health condition requiring long-term treatment. Most people with bipolar disorder receive treatment through a prescription medication, such as lithium, Depakote, or an atypical antipsychotic. But medication is often only half the equation, because medication only works when it’s taken as prescribed by the psychiatrist. People with bipolar disorder often discontinue their medication on their own, complaining of the side effects or feeling like they no longer need it.

Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder

Psychotherapy can be helpful for someone grappling with bipolar disorder, because it can help the person learn to deal with the psychological aspects of this disorder that aren’t helped by the medication. Therapy can help a person learn to change inappropriate or negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with the disorder.

Both individual or group therapy are appropriate and recommended for someone with this disorder. Therapy is usually supportive in nature, helping a person learn how to increase their coping skills and education about the disorder. With specific episodes of depression or mania, additional therapy can focus on the treatment of those disorders. For instance, therapy can help a person learn to better predict his or her own fluctuations in mood (which may be related to situational or seasonal changes). This in turn can decrease the likelihood of relapse in the future.

Prevention of future relapses is often a focus of therapy, with medication compliance as an important topic. This is especially true with individuals who may be experiencing a manic episode (or may be more predisposed to being on the manic side), but is can also be an issue for those who are experiencing no specific episodes of mania or depression.

Therapy should be flexible in its approach, since the needs of people suffering from bipolar disorder are diverse. Family therapy is sometimes warranted. For instance, bringing in a family member or close friend (or spouse) who keeps track of the patient can be beneficial to touch base with and ensure that everyone is clear about appropriate behavior and treatment. People with bipolar disorder can sometimes wreak havoc in their own personal lives when in a manic stage. This sometimes spills over to the person’s family or friends and should be an aspect of treatment in psychotherapy. Education of family members or significant others can help them better manage the patient at home and ensure medication compliance.

Followup care for someone with bipolar disorder is imperative. Whether this takes the form of regular group therapy sessions, case management, medication appointments, or the like, touching base with a professional will help a person to remain compliant in taking their medication as directed.

Discharge planning should take these factors into account; failure of a person to appear for the next scheduled appointment can be an ominous sign. Unfortunately, many such individuals easily fall between the cracks in the mental health system because followup is either not conducted or not conducted in a timely manner. This is especially true when the client is moving from an inpatient or day-treatment program to an outpatient program.

Self-Help Strategies for Bipolar Disorder

A person with bipolar disorder can help themselves stay balanced by taking an active approach in their treatment. Most people with bipolar disorder experience a relapse when they discontinue mood-stabilizing medication prescribed for the disorder because they “feel better — I don’t need to keep taking the medication any longer.”

Support groups offer an excellent adjunct to continuing medication check-ups once a month, and a way to gain emotional and social support through the community. These groups also allow others to ensure the client is doing well and promotes the client’s independence and stability. Many online bipolar support groups exist that are devoted to helping individuals with this disorder share their commons experiences and feelings.

Such support groups are recommended to individuals suffering from this disorder, especially if they have found therapy unhelpful or too expensive. Self-help mutual support groups, though, are unlikely to benefit a person with this disorder as much as they could, unless they are also under the care of a psychiatrist or another mental health professional.

Psychotherapy and Self-Help for Bipolar Disorder

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). Psychotherapy and Self-Help for Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Mar 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Mar 2020
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