A treatment program that stresses maintaining a regular schedule of daily activities and stability in personal relationships is an effective therapy for bipolar disorder, report University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers in September's Archives of General Psychiatry.
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT), a novel approach developed by the University of Pittsburgh researchers, was effective in preventing relapse over a two-year period, particularly in patients who don't have other chronic medical problems such as diabetes or heart disease.
IPSRT is based on the idea that disruptions in daily routines and problems in interpersonal relationships can cause recurrence of the manic and depressive episodes that characterize bipolar disorder. During the treatment, therapists help patients understand how changes in daily routines and the quality of their social relationships and their social roles, such as a parent, spouse or caregiver, for example, can affect their moods. After identifying situations that can trigger mania or depression, therapists teach the individuals how to better manage stressful events and better maintain positive relationships.
"Our study shows that this form of psychotherapy is helpful to many people with bipolar disorder," said Ellen Frank, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and principal investigator of the study. "Second, it shows that the type of psychotherapy we choose for a patient should depend on the individual's circumstances. Treatment for bipolar is not 'one-size-fits-all.' We have shown that IPSRT is a powerful tool in the prevention of illness recurrence."
More than 4 percent of adults in the United States suffer from a bipolar disorder or "sub-threshold" bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, commonly referred to as manic-depressive illness, is characterized by cycles of mania, depression or mixed states that often disrupt work, school, family and social life.
Conventional treatment approaches for the disorder include lithium and other mood stabilizers, which work well in the short-term but often have limited long-term success. Historically, psychotherapy has not been given much credence as a treatment option for the condition because of the disorder's strong biological basis. Only recently have researchers begun to investigate the effectiveness of psychotherapy for people with bipolar disorder, and studies like this one have shown that psychotherapy can have promising long-term benefits.