Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms of bipolar disorder generally begin in early adulthood. For most people the disorder is a lifelong diagnosis. However, with appropriate treatment and support symptoms it can be well managed and a good quality of life is possible.

Bipolar disorder, (previously known as manic depression) is a mental health condition that involves cycles of extreme low (depression) and high mood (“mania”).

The cycle of manic and depressive symptoms is different for everyone. For some people, episodes can last for three to six months and occur every few years. Others may experience shorter but more frequent episodes over the course of one year. Treatment with medication may stop the symptoms, or make them shorter or less intense.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but research suggests that around 80 per cent of the causes are genetic.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder generally begin in early adulthood. For most people the disorder is a lifelong diagnosis. However, with appropriate treatment and support:

  • bipolar disorder symptoms can be well managed
  • people with bipolar disorder can maintain a good quality of life.

Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder requires long-term treatment and management. In most cases this will be a combination of mood-stabilising medications, antidepressant medications and sometimes anti-psychotic medications.

Psychological therapies are an evidenced-based part of any treatment program for bipolar disorder because it assists in the learning of skills and techniques to build a quality life and minimise relapse into the more extreme states of the disorder.

Cognitive behavioural therapy capitalises on the fact that our thoughts, actions, and emotions are all interconnected and can influence one another. So CBT teaches you how to catch, challenge, and change unhelpful thoughts as well as identify and correct troublesome behaviour patterns in order to manage your mood better.

6 Common CBT Components for Bipolar Disorder

1. Accepting your diagnosis

The first step is to understand and acknowledge that you have a disorder that’s responsible for your symptoms. This is often difficult to accept, so teaching the signs, symptoms, causes, and course of the disorder is essential. It helps people embrace the idea of getting help while also knowing they’re not alone.

2. Monitoring your mood

This is often done using a worksheet or journal, which is kept up on a daily basis between sessions and then reviewed with your therapist. People are asked to rate their mood daily on a 0-to-10 scale, in which 0 represents “depressed,” 5 stands for “feeling OK,” and 10 is equivalent to “highly irritable or elevated mood.” The purpose is to become more aware of mood triggers and changes.

3. Undergoing cognitive restructuring

This process focuses on correcting unhelpful thought patterns by learning how to become more aware of the role thoughts play in your mood, how to identify problematic thoughts, and how to change or correct them.

4. Problem-solving frequently

This step involves learning how to identify a problem, generate potential solutions, select a solution, try it, and evaluate the outcome. Typically first taught in therapy, problem-solving is then practiced between sessions. Problems can be in any domain of life, from relationship distress to unemployment to credit card debt.

5. Enhancing your social skills

Some people with bipolar disorder lack certain social skills, which causes them to feel that they aren’t in control of a certain aspect of their lives. Learning skills such as assertiveness can help you manage interpersonal relationships better.

6. Stabilising your routine

Engaging in activities on a regular and predictable basis establishes a rhythm to your day, which helps stabilise your mood. Examples include exercising in the early afternoon, setting a consistent sleep and mealtime schedule, making social plans, and doing chores around the house.

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