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Is Medicine Better Than Therapy for Bipolar Disorder?

People affected by bipolar illness experience separate or overlapping symptoms of depression and an energized state called mania (or a less extreme state known as hypomania). Unfortunately, some individuals try to deal with these symptoms by self-medicating. This fact may leave you wondering if doctor-prescribed medication for bipolar disorder provides better results than therapy. In actuality, experts agree that truly effective treatment combines both of these approaches.
medication for bipolar

Bipolar Disorder Background

There is no single illness called bipolar disorder. Instead, doctors use the term collectively to refer to three distinct conditions:

  • Bipolar I disorder, which produces the classic bouts of mania and major depression that most people think of when talking about bipolar illness
  • Bipolar II disorder, which produces bouts of severe depression and hypomania (not mania), and
  • Cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder, which produces long-term symptoms of depression and hypomania not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of the other two main bipolar illnesses

The category also includes illnesses called “other specified” and “unspecified” bipolar and related disorder, which trigger symptoms not found in bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder or cyclothymia.

Medication-Based Treatment

Medications for bipolar illness are commonly prescribed to treat specific phases of the condition, as well as the condition as a whole. For example, antidepressants can help ease the effects of bouts of depression. On the other hand, mood stabilizers can help prevent or control bouts of depression and mania. Doctors may also prescribe antipsychotic medications, especially if you develop a form of the illness called bipolar psychosis.

Therapy-Based Treatment

Several forms of psychotherapy are used to help people deal with the effects of bipolar illness. These treatments achieve their positive effects by doing such things as:

  • Educating you and your family about the impact of bipolar disorder
  • Teaching you and your family how to move forward while keeping the family unit intact, and
  • Showing you how to cope with the impact of your illness in specific situations

Examples of the therapies used to help bipolar patients include psychoeducation and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

Combined Benefits

The National Institute of Mental Health notes that, as a rule, the best approaches to treating bipolar illness include both medication and therapy. This is true, in part, because of the wide-ranging impact the illness has on your day-to-day life. It’s also true because bipolar disorder never goes away. You need the combined support of medication and therapy to successfully adjust to the many ups and downs you will experience over time.



National Institute of Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Bipolar Disorder

Posted on March 1st, 2017

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