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Targeted psychosocial interventions for bipolar disorder


Ari Zaretsky, Department of Psychiatry, FG-42 2075 Bayview Avenue, University of Toronto,Toronto, Ontario, M4N 3M5, Canada.
Tel.: +1 416 480 4695;
Fax: +1 416 480 6878;


Abstract:  Pharmacotherapy is the foundation of treatment for bipolar disorder, but research suggests that adjunctive psychosocial interventions that are manualized, reproducible, time-limited, empirically supported, and strategically target a number of critical domains, can efficiently provide additional benefits. Psychoeducation as an adjunct of pharmacotherapy may be beneficial, but questions remain about the utility of this treatment for patients who are already compliant with medication treatment. Family educational interventions have demonstrated encouraging results in relapse prevention, but follow-up data are limited and application to patients who have limited social networks may be problematic. Reports on interpersonal and social rhythm therapy in patients with bipolar disorder are scarce, and what is available shows no differential effect on time to remission or relapse, but a significant impact on subsyndromal symptoms. Follow-up data suggest that patients receiving cognitive behavior therapy have significantly fewer bipolar episodes, shorter episodes, fewer hospitalizations, and less subsyndromal mood symptoms. It is unclear, however, if cognitive behavior therapy is superior to other active psychosocial treatments and whether its mechanism in patients with bipolar disorder is through changing dysfunctional cognitions or simply enhancing early symptom detection. Psychotherapies should be considered early in the course of illness to improve medication compliance and to help patients identify prodromes of relapse in order to take steps for prevention. In addition, some strategies may have a beneficial effect on residual symptoms, particularly symptoms of depression, and thus help move patients toward a more comprehensive functional recovery.