Due to the stigma attached to it, bipolar disorder is commonly misunderstood in society as a mental health disorder that makes someone act “crazy” and “irrational.” Many also frequently use the word “bipolar” when referring to someone who experiences a sudden change in their emotional state over a short period of time.
However, it’s important to understand that experiencing contrasting and confusing emotions is not necessarily a clinical symptom of bipolar disorder. Instead, bipolar disorder is a rather complex mental health condition that causes sudden shifts in mood, energy levels, and cognitive skills. This disorder affects nearly 2.6% of the U.S. population, with an average onset age of 25.
Despite its complexity, bipolar disorder is a treatable condition. Studies show that it can be managed and even effectively treated with psychotherapy and mental health support. Around 30% of people with this diagnosis make a full recovery, while another 40% experience a significant reduction in their symptoms.
Successful management of bipolar disorder entails appropriate education about the illness, adequate communication with healthcare professionals, and a reliable support system that can be involved in the treatment plan.
In this article, you’ll find out more about how you can manage and treat bipolar disorder with the help of psychotherapy.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Due to the stigma attached to it, it can sometimes be difficult for people to recognize the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Besides the well-known shifts in mood, such as going from feeling elated to depressed, there are other more subtle and complex symptoms one should look out for.
One distinct characteristic of bipolar disorder is having a period of intense emotion, such as excitement and depression. During the highly energetic episode, called a manic episode, you may feel very high, elated, or irritable. You might feel a decreased need for sleep and be able to do several things at once without showing signs of tiredness. Your speech and thinking might also become faster, and you can experience decreased appetite.
On the other hand, the other extreme of the mood episode is a depressive episode. When someone experiences this, they feel worried, tearful, and hopeless, often without an apparent cause. This leads them to have less energy, decreased productivity, and an increased need for sleep (although this is not always the case, some people might actually sleep less during a depressive episode).
The depressive episode also manifests in slowed speech and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. One particularly significant feature of this episode is that it leads people to feel that life is worthless, which can lead to suicidal ideation.
It is not uncommon for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder to deal with frequent depression symptoms. Sometimes, depression occurs during the “low” phase of this condition, but it can also manifest on an ongoing basis. Depression alters the way you think, feel, and behave. This is why it is paramount to seek bipolar disorder treatment from a mental health professional and learn how to better manage your symptoms.
Do I Need Therapy?
Given the complexity of various types of bipolar disorder, it is highly important for anyone susceptible to it to consult with a mental health professional. For example, mood swings can be caused by complex, underlying mental conditions, but not all of them are always related to bipolar disorder.
People with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder also have mixed episodes of depression and mania, often called “manic depression.” Due to the fact that depression is a major symptom of bipolar disorder, many individuals remain undiagnosed. Therapy and mental health support are not only crucial from a treatment standpoint, but they provide awareness for what the individual needs in terms of diagnosis management.
Furthermore, comorbid mental health conditions such as substance abuse or anxiety make it even more difficult to accurately diagnose and treat bipolar disorder. This lack of accurate diagnosis for bipolar disorder and its overlapping symptoms with other conditions have led to a series of misconceptions about this mental condition.
Since bipolar disorder is even more complicated when it occurs alongside other mental health pathologies, therapy is one of the first lines of support that someone can use. Therapy can help identify the most prominent triggers of manic and depressive episodes, as well as provide adaptive coping strategies.
This is what makes psychotherapy for bipolar disorder almost indispensable for someone who aims to lead a normal life while dealing with symptoms of bipolar disorder.
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Types of Therapy for Bipolar Disorder
When seeking therapy for bipolar disorder, it is important to know that you’re not limited to a single therapeutic approach. Depending on your preferences, personality, traits, and mental health needs, you can choose from various therapy types described in more detail below.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
As one of the most popular therapy modalities, CBT helps individuals work with dysfunctional thoughts that maintain their bipolar disorder symptoms. This therapy approach teaches how thoughts interact with emotions and behaviors in mental distress and how this can be changed with a more adaptive approach.
CBT is particularly effective when dealing with depressive symptoms that accompany bipolar disorder. Given its solution-focused, targeted approach, cognitive behavioral therapy for bipolar disorder provides many practical strategies.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Another type of cognitive therapy, DBT, focuses on coping techniques and acceptance of adverse situations. It uses tools like mindfulness meditation and emotional regulation techniques to help people live in the present and work with difficult emotions.
DBT has been found to be efficient in treating bipolar disorder due to its focus on coping strategies. Therapy with a DBT approach can support those with bipolar disorder in better coping with their mood changes and implementing new behavioral mechanisms.
Psychodynamic therapy is another type of talk therapy that works with the unconscious motivations, past experiences, and personal strengths of the client to help them overcome their mental distress.
During a course of psychodynamic therapy, individuals can increase their understanding of themselves and their coping mechanisms, which can drive emotional healing. Many people can also use this new understanding of themselves to improve their relationships with others. You can safely use psychodynamic therapy for bipolar disorder to manage your symptoms and achieve better emotional stability.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
Although many believe they have to attend in-person therapy to reap the benefits of this intervention, online therapy is just as effective.
The digital environment offers almost the same options for a therapeutic course. Online therapy for bipolar disorder focuses on identifying the triggers and vulnerable aspects in someone’s life while supporting them to manage their symptoms. The main characteristics of a therapist, such as warmth, empathy, positive regard, and unconditional acceptance, can also be found in an online therapy session. This is what makes online therapy and online counseling effective.
Studies show that when it comes to effectiveness, there is no significant difference between in-person and online therapy. This is because the principles of therapy, as well as its tools and techniques, remain largely the same in the virtual space. Moreover, you can build a strong rapport with your therapist in the same way you would do in a face-to-face session.
Additional benefits of online therapy
Unlike in-person therapy that may require commuting and extra costs, online therapy offers the benefit of flexibility and increased affordability. Many struggle to fit a weekly therapy session in their schedule due to work and family commitments, but online therapy can solve this problem.
People who seek online therapy for bipolar disorder can schedule a session from their home or while they’re at work, in a quiet and private place. This type of therapy maintains the same principles of full privacy and confidentiality, so you do not have to worry about your information being recorded or passed to someone else on the internet. All therapists work under a strict ethical guide, so you can connect to your online therapy session with full confidence in the privacy of your data.
Living with bipolar disorder can impose challenges on your productivity and personal relationships. The main aspects associated with this condition are frequent mood swings, changes in energy and emotions, and difficulties maintaining interpersonal relationships.
However, if you struggle with bipolar disorder, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Therapy is an effective treatment option that can teach you how to manage your symptoms and enjoy a normal life. Given the increasing popularity of online therapy, you now can choose to meet with a therapist virtually from the comfort of your home.