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Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder

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Psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, is an important part of treatment for bipolar disorder. During therapy, you can discuss feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that cause you problems. Talk therapy can help you understand and hopefully master any problems that hurt your ability to function well in your life and career. It also helps you stay on your medication. It can help you maintain a positive self-image.

The types of psychotherapy used to treat bipolar disorder include:

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  • Behavioral therapy. This focuses on behaviors that decrease stress.
  • Cognitive therapy. This type of approach involves learning to identify and modify the patterns of thinking that accompany mood shifts.
  • Interpersonal therapy. This involves relationships and aims to reduce strains that the illness may place upon them.
  • Social rhythm therapy. This helps you develop and maintain a normal sleep schedule and more predictable daily routines.

Support groups also help people with bipolar disorder. You receive encouragement, learn coping skills, and share concerns. You may feel less isolated as a result. Family members and friends may also benefit from a support group. They can gain a better understanding of the illness, share their concerns, and learn how to best support loved ones with bipolar disorder.

Education is another integral part of treatment for you and your family. People with bipolar disorder (and their families) often benefit from learning about the disorder -- its symptoms, early signs of an episode, and types of treatment.

Also, taking these steps may help you cope with bipolar disorder:

  • Establish routines. Regular sleep, eating, and activity appear to help people with bipolar disorder control their moods.
  • Identify symptoms. Even though the early warning signs of an approaching episode vary from person to person, together with a psychiatrist you can identify what behavior changes signal the onset of an episode for you. It may be needing less sleep to feel rested, buying things you can’t afford or don't need, or becoming suddenly involved in religion or new activities and interests.
  • Adapt. This can help you avoid embarrassing behavior during manic episodes and set realistic goals for treatment. Your doctor can help you prepare for future episodes and manage fear about having more. A key part of adapting is to understand the types of stress that might trigger episodes and the lifestyle changes that can reduce them.
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern. Go to bed and wake up around the same times each day. Changes in sleep can cause chemical changes in the brain, potentially triggering mood episodes.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs. These substances can trigger mood episodes. They can also interfere with the effectiveness of medication.

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