Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder? Yeah, for Real!

Help With Bipolar Disorder

“Why is it that treatment for bipolar disorder is a meds only proposition? If you ask me, that’s nothing but cruel and unusual punishment (and totally unfair)!”

It’s also untrue. So let’s learn about what’s cookin’ on the psychotherapy side of the fence for those enduring bipolar disorder.

By the way, this is the final article of a three-part series on the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Actually, the bulk of the series featured something known as “soft” bipolar disorder – a “milder” form of bipolarity that leans toward a more depressive – less traditionally manic – presentation. Interesting – and tricky – stuff. So be sure to read part-one (general info) and two (meds strategies) of the series.

In this piece, we’re going to discuss five psychotherapeutic approaches for all presentations of bipolar disorder. Let’s get busy…

Prodrome Detection

In psycho and medical babble, a prodrome is an early symptom(s) that may indicate the start of a disease – or episode – before the major symptom(s) presents.

Prodrome occurs in bipolar disorder – tipping off a coming depressive, manic, hypomanic, or mixed episode. Can you see the value of understanding it?

A therapist can be of great assistance in helping the bipolar individual devise a plan – and rehearse it – to put into action upon the onset of prodrome. ‘Course, one has to track and record symptoms over a meaningful period of time to know how their prodrome presents (hint, hint).

Cool thing is, the plan can be recorded on – say – a laminated card for easy accessibility when it’s needed. And a card can be given to family members, significant others, and friends so they can understand what’s going on – and lend a hand, if necessary.


How could anyone expect to manage any chronic illness if they don’t fully understand it? And so bipolar disorder psychoeducation is important, and a therapist can provide direction and info.

Worthy subject matter? Here’s a good start…

  • What is bipolar illness?
  • Causes and triggers
  • Symptoms of depressive, hypomanic, manic, and mixed episodes
  • Treatment
  • Understanding medication serum levels
  • Pregnancy and genetic counseling
  • Meds v. alternative therapies
  • Risks of treatment cessation
  • Risks of substance use
  • Understanding prodrome
  • What to do when a new phase is detected
  • Routine regularity
  • Stress management
  • Problem-solving

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy is a powerful treatment for the mood and anxiety disorders. Simply, it works to understand and adjust one’s patterns of thought; which have mighty impact upon their emotions and behavior.

As it applies to bipolar disorder, written plans and treatment contracts (agreements) are significant. And they’re applied to missions such as…

  • Building a support team
  • Learning about depressive triggers and symptoms – and coping with them
  • Understanding one’s symptoms of mood elevation – and how to cope with them

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (ISRT)

ISRT works to treat the disruption in circadian rhythms often caused by bipolar disorder. It fully recognizes that bipolar disorder is a biological disease; however, it posits that relief strategies go well beyond meds.

And so it’s on to managing stressful events, disruptions in circadian rhythms and personal relationships, and conflicts that arise due to difficulty with social adjustments.

Hugely important is working toward maintaining regular rhythms in routine activities such as sleeping, waking, eating, exercising, and more.

Family-Focused Therapy

Bipolar disorder is a family disease. So all immediate family members – and significant others and friends – need to be educated in all aspects of bipolar disorder. And the education needs to include the peculiarities of the sufferer’s bipolar experience.

Of utmost importance is being taught what to do when a relapse occurs.

Family work teaches communication skills between family members, as well as with the sufferer. And it’s important to understand that paramount in family-focused therapy is the survival of family members, significant others, and close friends.

It isn’t always about the patient’s needs.

A Series Wrap

Wow…we made it! That’ll do it for our bipolar disorder treatment series. Hope you found it educational and meaningful.

Referencing the title of the first article in the series – “Hope Comes Hard” when it comes to bipolar disorder. But with dedicated work and support, it’s a manageable set of circumstances.

As was the case for the first two articles in the series, Dr. James Phelps’ was an incredible resource. Thanks, doc!

Would you like to check-out a listing of all chipur bipolar disorder articles? Just you click here.