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Intensive Psychotherapy Effective in Treating Bipolar Disorder

Patients taking medications to treat bipolar disorder are more likely to get well faster by intensive psychotherapy, according to results from the //Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD).

This program was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The results are published in the April 2007 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Bipolar disorder is a debilitating illness marked by severe mood swings between depression and mania that affects 2.6 percent of Americans in any given year. "We know that medication is an important component in the treatment of bipolar illness. These new results suggest that adding specific, targeted psychotherapy to medication may help give patients a better shot at lasting recovery," said NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni.

"STEP-BD is helping us identify the best tools—both medications and psychosocial treatments—that patients and their clinicians can use to battle the symptoms of this illness," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

Psychotherapy is routinely employed as a means to treat bipolar illness in conjunction with medication, but the extent to which psychotherapy is effective has been unclear. In addition, most psychotherapeutic studies have been limited to a single site and compared only one type of treatment to routine care. Thus, in addition to examining the role of medication, STEP-BD set out to compare several types of psychotherapy and pinpoint the most effective treatments and treatment combinations.

With 293 participants, David Miklowitz, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado and colleagues set out to test the effectiveness of three types of standardized, intensive, nine-month-long psychotherapy compared to a control group that received a three-session, psychoeducational program called collaborative care. The intensive therapies were:

* family-focused
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