There are a number of effective therapies for bipolar disorder. The most supportive therapy type depends on your unique needs.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is one of the most effective treatments for bipolar disorder. There are many different styles of talk therapy, and it can be hard to know which one to choose.
In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for treating bipolar disorder. The most supportive therapy option for bipolar disorder depends on your unique situation, and what works for one person with bipolar disorder may not work for another person with bipolar disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the “gold standard” of therapy for bipolar disorder. A lot of evidence suggests CBT is effective for treating bipolar disorder in most people, but other kinds of therapy can also be effective.
There’s no clear option for the best type of therapy for bipolar disorder. While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-researched and widely used form of therapy for bipolar disorder, other approaches may be more appropriate in certain situations.
Research suggests that no matter what kind of therapy you use, psychoeducation — learning about your disorder — is very effective for bipolar disorder.
Many therapists take a varied approach to psychotherapy, drawing techniques from different therapeutic approaches. Instead of providing only CBT or only dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), for example, psychotherapists may use a mixture of therapeutic approaches to address their client’s unique needs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most widely studied and commonly used forms of talk therapy. CBT aims to help people recognize and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to their symptoms.
Many experts consider CBT the most supportive therapy type for bipolar disorder, but it’s not the only option. There are other types of therapy available if CBT doesn’t work for you.
A 2019 review found that while CBT can be helpful, other kinds of therapy — including family-focused therapy (FFT) and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) — may be more appropriate and effective for some people.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
DBT is a form of talk therapy that was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder but has since been adapted to treat other mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder.
The goal of DBT is to help people with bipolar disorder learn new skills for regulating emotions, improving relationships, and reducing impulsive behaviors.
There’s an abundance of evidence showing that DBT can be effective for bipolar disorder. A 2023 review concluded that DBT improves symptoms of bipolar disorder. The therapy can reduce depressive symptoms, improve social well-being, and help people manage their emotions.
A 2020 study found that, when paired with appropriate medication, DBT could reduce mania and depression symptoms, improve day-to-day functioning, and enhance emotional regulation skills.
DBT can be done in an individual or group setting.
Family-focused therapy (FFT)
Bipolar disorder can affect your relationships, including your relationships with close loved ones. Family-based therapy, such as FFT, may help improve those relationships.
The goals of FFT are to:
- teach your family to recognize the signs of an episode
- educate your family about how best to support you
- improve conflict management
- improve communication within your family
- create a plan for preventing relapse
The review noted that FFT seems to be more effective for clients with “high-expressed emotion relatives,” meaning the person who has bipolar disorder may have family members who are hostile, critical, or overly involved with them.
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT)
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) focuses on helping people with bipolar disorder regulate their daily routines. The routines can include your sleep-wake cycles, social interactions, work, hobbies, and eating patterns.
Sleep can have a significant effect on your mood and mental health. Sleep loss may trigger mood episodes in people with bipolar disorder, according to
More recently, a 2022 review of several studies concluded that IPSRT was effective for reducing both manic and depressive symptoms, improving quality of life, and increasing social functioning.
IPSRT can be done in conjunction with other therapy types.
A 4-year study found that psychoeducation could reduce the time people with bipolar disorder spend in the hospital.
Psychoeducation involves learning about your condition. Often, psychoeducation for bipolar disorder involves treating both the person with bipolar disorder and their family. Most types of therapy can involve an element of psychoeducation.
Psychoeducation can help you:
- identify your triggers
- feel less isolated, as you learn that other people face similar challenges
- identify signs of a depressive or manic episode
- find healthy, effective coping mechanisms
- learn about treatment and self-care strategies
Psychoeducation can also empower your loved ones with knowledge about your condition. Their knowledge can help them to support you better while also taking care of themselves.
During therapy, you may have certain outcomes on which you’re hoping to work. Therapists will often ask you what you’d like to be assisted with in therapy.
If you’re currently experiencing a manic or depressive episode, the goal may be to help you recover from the episode quickly. During this stage, medication and hospitalization may be the first treatment you experience.
Long-term therapeutic goals for bipolar disorder will depend on your symptoms and how they affect your life.
For example, if you find that bipolar disorder affects your relationships, your goals may be to learn how to improve communication and manage conflict. If your condition makes it difficult for you to attend school, better attendance may be your primary goal.
Other goals may include reducing the severity, length, and frequency of mood disorders, keeping a regular sleeping routine, and remaining consistent with your treatment plan (taking prescribed medication, continuing therapy, etc.).
If you need immediate assistance, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. You can also visit your local emergency department by calling 911 or local emergency services if you need help.
If a loved one is living with bipolar disorder, you can support them by:
- educating yourself about bipolar disorder
- gently encouraging them to connect with a therapist
- reminding them that you care about them
- listening actively and with empathy
In serious situations — for example, if someone is unable to function or if they feel suicidal — it’s essential to get them emergency mental health help. Hospitalization may be helpful for people who are experiencing mood episodes.
At the same time, be sure to practice self-care and keep healthy boundaries with the person you’re supporting.
Learn more about supporting a loved one living with bipolar disorder.
Help is out there
If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:
- Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
- Call 911 or your local emergency services number if you feel safe to do so.
If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.
If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.
There are a number of proven therapeutic processes for bipolar disorder. CBT is the most widely used, but there are also other effective therapy types. The most supportive therapy option for bipolar disorder is one that takes your needs and symptoms into account.
If you have bipolar disorder, you’ll benefit from getting therapy sooner rather than later. You may want to look for a therapist that specializes in treating bipolar disorder.