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Keywords:

  • psychotherapy;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • psychoeducation;
  • adherence;
  • relapse prevention;
  • evidence-based medicine

Objective:  We aimed to examine the historical and current relevance of psychosocial approaches to bipolar illness by conducting a systematic review of prospective studies assessing the effectiveness of psychological interventions for bipolar disorder.

Method:  A systematic literature search was conducted using EMBASE, MedLine and PsychLIT and reference sections of papers were scrutinized for further relevant reports. Only four trials met the criteria of a prospective study and achieved the necessary methodological standards.

Results:  The studies showed benefits for patients in terms of relapse prevention and the reduction of hospitalization rates. Psychoeducation (delivered in groups or as part of a family intervention) and cognitive behavioural therapy were also found to be effective prophylactic treatments for bipolar disorder in medicated patients. Other interventions do not appear to be supported by sufficient evidence.

Conclusion:  Psychological approaches, and particularly psychoeducation and cognitive-behavioural therapies, are evidence-based prophylactic therapies for bipolar patients receiving pharmacotherapy. They should be used as adjuncts to medication where possible in the prevention of bipolar disorder.