Psychotherapy aids bipolar treatment

Psychotherapy enhances emotional stability in people receiving standard medications for bipolar disorder, a new study finds.

Scientists earlier reported that only about one-quarter of bipolar patients receiving mood-stabilizing drugs get substantially better, whether or not they also take antidepressant medication (SN: 3/31/07, p. 196: Available to subscribers at Bipolar Surprise: Mood disorder endures antidepressant setback).

The same researchers, led by psychologist David Miklowitz of the University of Colorado at Boulder, have now studied 293 patients receiving medication for bipolar disorder. The team randomly assigned the participants to one of three types of psychotherapy or to a brief educational program. Patients entered treatment in the early stages of a depression episode.

Psychotherapy lasted for up to 30 sessions over 9 months. One approach required family participation in boosting a patient’s coping and communication skills. Another method explored distorted thinking and destructive behavior in bipolar disorder. A third technique established daily routines and addressed relationship problems.

The brief program occurred in three sessions and provided information about bipolar disorder and strategies to avoid relapses.

When assessed 1 year after the study began, two-thirds of the patients receiving any of the psychotherapies displayed good emotional health, compared with half of those who received the brief intervention. The new report appears in the April Archives of General Psychiatry.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.