Last updated: 13 January 2021
This article covers:
– What types of therapies are involved?
– What types of professionals are involved?
– The journey of recovery from bipolar disorder
What types of therapies are involved?
When it comes to bipolar disorder, medication is the first treatment that is given. However, there are some psychological therapies that can also be helpful. This can include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) and family therapy. These therapies will be discussed below.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on how we think and act and how this affects how we feel. Research shows that CBT is effective in helping people with bipolar disorder to have less severe episodes.
The idea behind CBT for bipolar disorder is to help the young person to monitor and manage the thoughts, actions and feelings that might make the depressive symptoms worse.
During the sessions, the young person will learn about bipolar disorder and how it works. They will also learn to spot certain warning signs for changes in mood. The young person will learn to make changes to the way they think about certain situations, as well as learn to problem-solve and develop social skills.
Eventually, the young person will develop their personal toolbox for coping with depression in a healthier way.
IPT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on the young person and their relationships, as a way to manage the depressive episodes. Research shows that IPT is helpful for reducing depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder.
The idea behind IPT is that relationships are always involved in the course of depression. So by helping relationships to get better, the depression will also get better.
The young person will develop an understanding of how their relationships affect the way they feel. They will learn the skills that will help their relationships to improve. These might include communication skills, conflict resolution, problem-solving and other relational skills.
There is also a variation of IPT that involves focusing on the social rhythms in the person’s life. The therapist might also help them to adopt a regular daily routine that encourages discipline in areas such as taking medications, having a good bedtime routine, going to work and making social contact.
Eventually, the young person will have improved their relationships and daily routine, which will reduce the symptoms of depression.
This is a type of therapy that focuses on the family as a whole, as a way to support the young person in coping with bipolar disorder.
The idea behind family therapy for bipolar disorder is to strengthen family relationships and the ability to work together to manage the disorder. This can help the person to recover from episodes more quicker and experience less severe symptoms.
The family will learn how to resolve conflict, improve communication and emotional bonds. By working together, they will learn to take helpful actions that will help to support the young person when they are having difficulties.
Eventually, the family will build a strong support network and will be responsible for spotting warning signs and encouraging the person to get the most out of their treatment.
What types of professionals are involved?
There are different professionals that may or may not be involved throughout the treatment process of bipolar disorder in young people. These might include counsellors, psychotherapists and doctors/psychiatrist, mental health nurses, support workers and social workers. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received.
In the UK, there is not much of a distinction made between counsellor or psychotherapist. Both of these professionals provide therapy. However, there are some slight differences between these two professional terms. These are outlined below.
Counsellors: Compared to psychotherapists, counsellors tend to have had a shorter training and they help people deal with their issues on a more short-term basis. There may be school-based counsellors available that children and young people can approach at their own school, if they feel they need support with their difficulties. Here at Mindsum, we have counsellors that are available to provide support.
Psychotherapists: Psychotherapy training tends to be longer. Psychotherapists can also give counselling but their approach to talk therapy is more in-depth, exploring the history and causes of certain behaviours and emotional issues. The psychotherapist will work with bipolar disorder in this specialized way. Here at Mindsum, we have psychotherapists that are available to provide support.
There are also doctors and psychiatrists that are involved in the treatment of bipolar disorder. There are more obvious differences between these two professional terms.
Doctors: These are professionals that are trained in medicine. This will likely be the family GP, who might find it necessary to prescribe certain medications that might help the person to cope.
Psychiatrist: These are professionals that are also trained in medicine. However, they also specialized in the field of psychiatry. Psychiatrists will prescribe certain medications that will help with the episodes in bipolar disorder.
Mental health nurses: Nurses trained in mental health might also be involved. If the young person is in a hospital setting or is seen by a crisis team due to self-harm or suicide, a mental health nurse might help to give treatment by administering medication.
Support workers: Workers trained in helping vulnerable people to live better lives might also be involved with the young person. This might be within a community setting or a crisis situation. Their role is to provide emotional and practical support (e.g. helping parents to cope, helping with paperwork, making child-care arrangements).
Social workers: Workers trained in protecting vulnerable individuals might also be involved. This might be within a community or a crisis situation. Social workers will problem-solve and organise the right support for the young person to ensure their protection.
The journey of recovery from bipolar disorder
When it comes to bipolar disorder, it is about management as opposed to recovery. This is because bipolar disorder is a life-long condition. The way bipolar disorder is managed can look different for each young person. But there are some things that are expected when going through therapy for bipolar disorder.
This is an important phase, where the psychiatrist or doctor will first assess the young person. They will ask many questions, including certain questions about mania, depression and the possibility of self-harm or suicide. This will help to create a full picture of what is going on and to know what type of treatment will be most helpful. From there, the doctor might decide on a treatment plan that includes medication, psychological therapy and a crisis plan for the person.
These sessions will take place on a more long-term basis. An important aspect of the therapy session is the relationship that the counsellor or psychotherapist will build with the young person and the family. This will create a safe space that will encourage them to explore their difficulties. The sessions will equip the young person and the family to understand and manage the episodes of bipolar disorder.
This can be an important part of treatment. The therapist might get the young person and family members to practice certain tasks at home. Homework tasks will help the young person and the family to develop a sense of achievement and mastery in coping with bipolar disorder.
The psychiatrist or therapist may have made agreements with the person on what to do if they experience sudden desires to self-harm or commit suicide, due to intense depressive episodes. For this reason, it may happen that other mental health staff will need to see them at their home or at the hospital to provide support.
Progress and setbacks
When having treatment for bipolar disorder, there will be progress and setbacks. Even with successful therapy, the person might still experience some extremes in their mood. It is important not to feel discouraged when this happens, as this is normal when dealing with bipolar disorder. These situations provide opportunities to discover new ways to move forward together with the mental health experts involved in the treatment.
The counsellor or psychotherapist will eventually prepare the young person and the family for the end of therapy. The end of therapy will take place once the young person and the family has made a lot of progress and has reached their treatment goals. The young person and the family will leave therapy with many skills that they can use without the help of the therapist.
The young person will continue to see their psychiatrist throughout their lives. The counsellor or psychotherapist might schedule follow-up meetings to check how the young person is coping. If they are doing well, there will be no need for more support. But if they continue to have challenges, this will be an opportunity to have extra support.
List of useful resources
To read our information on bipolar disorder, you can click here to access the link.
Bipolar UK offers some helpful insight on their website on what managing bipolar disorder can look like. You can click here to access the link.
Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.