Psychotherapy & Overcoming Bipolar Disorder

Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, van Gogh, Kurt Cobain… Individuals in mainstream media seen as having bipolar disorder can paint a complicated image of the illness— an image that both romanticizes and catastrophizes the condition. These individuals are seen as riding the waves of their emotions, creating genius art, but ultimately, and tragically, being a victim of their diagnosis.

It’s true that bipolar disorder can present challenges to an individual and their loved ones if left untreated. However, unlike the narratives of these famous examples, certain therapies with the guidance of medical professionals can help lift and empower the individual to find ways to take care of themselves and through modifying their lifestyle, and mental health treatment to gain control over their moods. New studies show that CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, can people control bipolar disorder in three key ways:

1. Decrease Negative Thoughts

Often, emotions result from neutral situations to which we give negative meanings. If a mistake happens at work, we might think “I’m a failure, I’m not good at anything,” neither of which are true. Nonetheless, these meanings influence our moods, and might trigger a spiral of negative thoughts and negative emotions.

CBT techniques step in right after the hypothetical mistake at work and before the negative thoughts—stopping any negative emotions in their tracks and preventing the cycle. By being able to detect these negative, untrue self beliefs, CBT helps to increase self awareness and decrease the chance of extreme, negative emotional reactions.

2. Increase Self Awareness

By becoming attuned to the relationships between negative thoughts and beliefs and our emotions, we can start to track how our emotions fluctuate and what kind of triggers affects us. Little by little, this awareness can enlighten what might trigger a manic or depressive episode, information that, when paired with the right measures, can prevent episodes from emerging.

3. Client-Therapist Collaboration

The relationship that forms between the client and the therapist is instrumental to the healing process and developing self-monitoring skills and coping skills. In CBT, the client does most of the work and the therapist helps guide this work and provide insight and accountability. The goal is for the client to gain the tools they need to live a full and satisfying life and not let bipolar disorder dominate their life.