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How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

By Kimberly Read

Updated June 08, 2012

As a disorder of the brain, bipolar disorder is generally classified as a psychiatric or mental illness (See What Is Bipolar Disorder?). However, it can just as easily be thought of as a medical condition because scientific research has revealed significant evidence showing an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain (See What Causes Bipolar Disorder?).

Because of that, a treatment plan for bipolar disorder primarily consists of pharmacological intervention (medications) and sometimes psychological therapy. At times, psychiatric hospitalizations may be necessary to safely reach a point of stability. There are also treatment options that are less common and those that are usually considered only in extreme circumstances.

Medicines for Bipolar Disorder

The primary goal of drug treatment is to stabilize the extreme mood swings of mania and depression. It is also common for medications to be prescribed for extreme symptoms such as psychosis or co-occurring disorders such as anxiety. As you would expect, the list of medications that can be prescribed is vast. However, they generally fall into the following categories:

Psychological Therapies for Bipolar Disorder

As would be expected with any condition that affects the brain, bipolar disorder directly impacts emotional and cognitive functioning of those diagnosed with this disorder. Therefore, psychological therapy can also be an important treatment. There are usually any number of goals: to increase compliance of taking medications, to create bonds with others who have the same condition, to reduce negative behaviors, or to learn new coping skills. The following are some of the key types of therapy used in the treatment of bipolar disorder:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Family/Marriage Counseling
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy
  • Talk Therapy


There are times when those with bipolar disorder may experience episodes that require 24-hour care available only through psychiatric hospitalization. Hospitalizations allow specialized staff to monitor patients closely, changing medications as necessary to achieve stabilization, and to provide concentrated, frequent sessions of therapy. Hospitalizations are also vital for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide. The majority of hospital stays are classified as inpatient – the patient stays at the hospital around the clock. However, outpatient programs, in which patients participate in programs during the day but return to their own homes at night, are becoming more common.

Additional Options

In addition to the treatment options discussed above, there are also those that are less common and those that are usually considered only in extreme circumstances.
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