Psychosocial treatments for bipolar disorder: cost-effectiveness, mediating mechanisms, and future directions


  • David J Miklowitz,

    1. Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Colorado, Boulder and Denver, CO, USA
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford University, Oxford
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  • Jan Scott

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of Newcastle, Newcastle
    2. Honorary Professor, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK
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  • The authors report no conflicts of interest in connection with this manuscript.

Corresponding author:
David J. Miklowitz, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Colorado
Muenzinger Building
Boulder, CO 80309-0345, USA
Fax: +1 303 492 2967


Objectives:  Randomized trials of adjunctive psychotherapy for bipolar disorder are reviewed, in tandem with discussion of cost-effectiveness, mediating mechanisms, and moderators of effects.

Methods:  Systematic searches of the MEDLINE and PSYCHLIT databases yielded 19 randomized controlled trials of individual family and group therapies. Outcome variables included time to recovery, relapse or recurrence, symptom severity, medication adherence, and psychosocial functioning.

Results:  Meta-analyses consistently show that disorder-specific psychotherapies [cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal, family, and group] augment mood stabilizers in reducing rates of relapse (OR = 0.57; 95% CI: 0.39–0.82) over 1–2 years. Specific mediating mechanisms include, but are not limited to, increasing medication adherence, teaching self-monitoring and early intervention with emergent episodes, and enhancing interpersonal functioning and family communication. All therapies have strengths and weaknesses. One group psychoeducation trial, demonstrated effect sizes for recurrence that are at least equivalent to individual therapies, but findings await replication. Family interventions have been successfully administered in both single and multi-family formats, but no studies report the comparative cost-effectiveness of these formats. The best-studied psychotherapy modality, CBT, can have beneficial effects on depression, but findings are inconsistent across studies and vary with sample characteristics and comparison treatments.

Conclusions:  Adjunctive psychotherapies can be cost-effective when weighed against observed reductions in recurrence, hospitalization and functional impairments. Future trials need to (i) clarify which populations are most likely to benefit from which strategies; (ii) identify putative mechanisms of action; (iii) systematically evaluate costs, benefits, and generalizability; and (iv) record adverse effects. The application of psychosocial interventions to young-onset populations deserves further study.