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Treatment Questions and Answers

Treatments are available that control the disorder either by stopping episodes of depression and mania or by preventing or lessening the severity of these episodes.

Treatments for stopping episodes of depression or mania include medications, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychotherapy. If a person becomes so depressed or manic that he might hurt himself or others, brief hospitalization is also an option. While a person is recovering from an episode, he or she may attend a day treatment program or stay in a halfway house.

Treatments for preventing or lessening the severity of episodes of depression or mania include medications and  psychotherapy.


How can medications help control bipolar disorder?
Multiple medications have been found to help control bipolar disorder. Some can be used to stop mania, and they may also help stop or lessen the severity of depression. These medications are also used to prevent or decrease the recurrence of episodes of mania or depression.

Some people have good responses to medications, alone or in combination. In many others, the symptoms do not completely go away. They do, however, get less intense and more manageable so that the quality of the person's life improves. Often, people need to take more than one medication at a time for maximal benefit.

More information on specific uses and side effects of medications is available in pamphlets from your physician.


How can psychotherapy help control bipolar disorder?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help enhance the effectiveness of medications in controlling bipolar disorder. It can be offered in individual or group format. CBT can help people learn to monitor and control the symptoms of bipolar disorder, to reduce obstacles to medication adherence, and to cope with stressors that may make new episodes more likely. Cognitive therapy (often included as one component of CBT) is an approach where patients learn to identify and modify the patterns of thinking that accompany mood shifts. For example, people who are depressed may see themselves, their world, and their future in an extremely negative, grim, pessimistic way. They may feel that all is doomed, that they are bad or worthless, and that nothing will ever go right. This way of looking at the world is a distortion which can exacerbate their depressed feelings.

At the opposite extreme, people who are manic or hypomanic tend to see themselves, their world, and their future in a very positive, optimistic, "rose-colored" way. They may feel that luck is on their side, that they are extremely capable or powerful, and that nothing can go wrong. This outlook is also a distortion, and it can lead to unwise or risky choices and serious problems. In cognitive therapy, people can learn to monitor their thoughts and test them out logically in order to counter the distortions that go with depressed and elevated moods.

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