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Talk Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings. People with this condition move between highs (mania) and lows (depression). Bipolar disorder is best treated with a combination of medicine and talk therapy.1

Talk therapy is highly effective at treating bipolar symptoms when used with medicine. In fact, 1 long-term study showed that people who take bipolar medicine are more likely to get well faster and stay well if they also receive certain types of intense therapy. Therapy should not be used alone to treat bipolar depression.2

There are many different types of therapy that may be used to treat bipolar disorder. They include:1

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Group therapy or support groups

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps a person understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Through CBT, a person may begin to uncover unhealthy beliefs and how they may lead to self-destructive behavior. The person then learns coping strategies that help them stay healthier.3

For example, a person may think they can’t do anything right. This type of belief contributes to low self-esteem. Through CBT, the person discovers that, based on experience, they actually do most things right most of the time.3

Studies show that CBT leads to changes in the brain that may help it work better.3

Family therapy

People with bipolar disorder usually need the support of loved ones to get healthy and stay healthy. Family therapy typically works on the interpersonal components of the family system to reduce conflict or improve supportive systems. Family therapy also helps loved ones learn about the condition and how they can contribute to a treatment plan.1,2

Family members also can encourage the person to take their prescribed medicines consistently. They can help them get regular sleep, exercise, and healthy meals. And they can provide a calm, quiet home environment.2

Loved ones also may spot swings into mania or depression before the person with bipolar disorder does. They can then encourage early treatment.2

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can help a person with bipolar disorder learn self-care and stress management techniques. A therapist also can help them learn to recognize early signs of mania or depression in themselves.1

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy focuses on helping a person understand how their negative behaviors or beliefs affect others. The goal is to help them recognize patterns like social isolation or aggression and learn more positive behaviors. This type of therapy can be especially helpful for depression.3

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is another way to help people recognize and understand negative thoughts and processes. It focuses on behaviors that are rooted in past experiences. It may be short-term or long-term therapy.1

Support groups

Support groups can give people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones comfort and helpful information. Support groups give everyone a chance to share their experiences. Members may discuss which coping strategies have worked and which have not. Some support groups are led by a person with the condition. Some are led by a mental health professional.4

Ask your healthcare team about support groups in your area. Also, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides free education and support groups nationwide.4

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