Psychotherapy is a non-medical "talking" therapy that can be very effective and helpful for some bipolar patients. However, it is generally helpful as an additional bipolar treatment to be provided along with medication treatment. Forms of depression can often be adequately and safely treated with certain forms of psychotherapy alone. Depressive illnesses have complex and mixed physical and psychological causes and maintaining factors. However, with bipolar disorders, the physical components are generally stronger and more resistant to psychotherapy alone as a treatment.
People who have not experienced quality psychotherapy tend to think of it as a sort of "pep talk" that provides motivation without substance. Others think of it as a mystical, non-scientific sort of process. These are mistaken impressions, however. Receiving effective bipolar treatment psychotherapy is about being taught or coached in ways to deal with the symptoms of the disorder. This teaching happens in a non-judgmental way. Just as athletes benefit from coaching, so too do patients.
Psychotherapy offers many kinds of benefits to patients. There are several supportive aspects to therapy. Patients typically come to think of therapy as a safe place to talk about how their bipolar illness is impacting them and their families. Patients may also benefit from the objective monitoring and prompting that a therapist can provide concerning the patient's condition, mood state, and risk of self-harm. Therapists also work with patients to help them strengthen coping and social skills that are impacted by their bipolar disease. This helps them better handle their social and workplace relationships, and to resist the temptations of the extreme mood states that they must deal with. Finally, therapists may also help motivate patients to stick with their bipolar medication routines, and to know when they require adjustment. Medically trained therapists (e.g., psychiatrists, and some psychologists in several locations) can monitor and prescribe bipolar medications, as well as provide psychotherapy. However, this is more typically split between two different professionals - a psychiatrist who prescribes and maintains the medication treatment and a psychologist or counselor who provides psychotherapy.
There is no one type of psychotherapy that is used with bipolar disorder. Instead, multiple approaches with different strategies and tools have been developed. Three types of psychotherapy, in particular, have been found useful for treating bipolar disorder treatment and we will now take a brief look at those.