Psychological therapies in bipolar disorder: the effect of illness history on relapse prevention – a systematic review


  • The authors of this paper do not have any commercial associations that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with this manuscript.

Corresponding author:
Dominic H. Lam, Ph.D.
Department of Clinical Psychology
Hull York Medical School
University of Hull
Hertford Building
Hull, HU6 7RX, UK
Fax: +44 1482 464093


Objectives:  Despite some encouraging outcomes and shared components of psychological therapies specific to bipolar disorders, not all studies found conclusively that the addition of a psychosocial intervention to pharmacological interventions improves outcomes. There was some tentative evidence from post hoc analyses that patients with more than 12 previous episodes did not benefit from psychoeducation or cognitive therapy. This paper presents a systematic review and meta-analysis which examines the overall efficacy of bipolar disorder-specific psychological therapies and the impact of the number of previous episodes on the efficacy of psychological therapies in relapse prevention.

Methods:  Systematic literature searches of electronic databases and reference lists of existing reviews were carried out. The number of participants experiencing relapse in randomized, controlled studies was combined in a meta-analysis to determine the overall treatment effect in relapse prevention. Metaregression modeling was used to examine whether the number of previous episodes confounded the number of relapses experienced by participants by the end of treatment.

Results:  Meta-analysis of relapse calculated an overall relative risk of 0.74 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.64–0.85] with some heterogeneity present (I2 = 43.3%). Metaregression of six studies showed no relationship between number of episodes and number of relapses by endpoint.

Conclusion:  Psychological therapy specifically designed for bipolar disorder is effective in preventing or delaying relapses in bipolar disorders, and there is no clear evidence that the number of previous episodes moderated the effect.