Why You Need Counseling for Bipolar Disorder and Not Just Medication

If you’re newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder or have been living with it for a long time, hopefully you know the importance of medication. No one in the mental health community would dispute that medication is the single most important factor for successful bipolar disorder treatment. However, getting counseling for bipolar disorder is essential to ensure that you live a full, fulfilling life, free of symptoms as much as you possibly can.

Effective Counseling for Bipolar Disorder Should Focus on Several Goals:

First, you are a human being, not a mental health condition or “chemical imbalance”. You aren’t “bipolar”; you have Bipolar Disorder. (If you work with me, you’ll find I’ll correct you if you label yourself “bipolar”.)

  1. If you’re newly diagnosed, counseling for bipolar disorder is a place for you to discuss how bipolar disorder has affected your life, understand what it means for you to incorporate it into your identity, and learn how to realize bipolar disorder does not define who you are. It can be helpful to hear about others struggles and victories from a counselor who has extensive experience with bipolar disorder, and realize you’re not alone in this very common challenge.
  2. It’s essential that you learn to recognize symptoms of a mood swing. You need to be fully aware of signs that you might be becoming depressed or manic.

    I’m always surprised about the number of my clients with bipolar disorder who can’t name the formal criteria or symptoms of mania or depression.

    You probably have a particular pattern of behavior, feelings, or thoughts that lead you to a mood episode. Having awareness of your personal signs of s mood episode are can help you identify your in the danger zone. Early recognition of an oncoming mood episode can drastically reduce its severity and duration and reduce the damage it may do to your life.

  3. If you do have a mood episode coming on, counseling for bipolar disorder can help you know what actions you can take to prevent it from getting bigger. If it’s already occurring, we can work quickly to try to help you overcome it. It’s also very helpful to have a plan in place that you’ve developed in counseling ahead of time so you know what to do when you see it coming.
  4. Hopefully, you’ll be working closely with a psychiatrist to dial in your medication. Psychiatrists will frequently ask you how you been doing with your mood, and they often won’t have much time to discuss it in detail. They rarely have time to keep track of many significant other factors in your life.

    In counseling, your therapist can help keep track of your mood and t how well your medication is working so that you can inform your psychiatrist accurately of your symptoms.

    It’s very difficult to recognize our own mood fluctuations, so having consistent contact with a counselor to monitor your symptoms and help you become more aware of your own moods can be helpful in determining whether to discuss adjusting your medications with your psychiatrist. Counseling for bipolar disorder can also help you identify potentially problematic side effects of medications.

  5. I think it’s also important you understand the various medications for bipolar disorder and how they might fit into your particular situation. Knowledge is always your friend, and can help reduce the fear of medications, as well as make you informed of the potential risks.
    Nobody experiences this disorder exactly the same way and they might need a custom medication regimen, frequently two or more medications.

    When needed, I try to collaborate with the psychiatrist to help a client find the ideal combination for them. Sometimes, people aren’t able to work with psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse and instead are working with their general practitioner (ordinary doctor), who may or may not have a full understanding of bipolar disorder. Again, active collaboration between a doctor and counselor can greatly improve the effectiveness of medication.

  6. Speaking of medication, how are you feeling about having to take meds the rest of your life? For many people, this is something you will need to process. You also may need some practical assistance in making sure your taking her medications as directed. It’s not uncommon for people to struggle with this task, which can setback their progress significantly.
  7. Medication alone is not going to be sufficient to prevent mood episodes. It’s also important to make lifestyle changes, such as sleep, diet, scheduling and structure, using supplements, reducing substance abuse, etc. as an expert on bipolar disorder, I can help you develop other tools for managing your mood.
  8. A major component of bipolar disorder is thinking, and learning how to work with your thoughts can really help you manage your own mind. In my opinion, there is no greater tool for this than mindfulness. Learning mindfulness exercises or developing a practice can be a huge benefit for all of us, especially if we have a mental health challenge.
  9. If at all possible, it’s great to incorporate families into counseling for bipolar disorder. There is clear research that family involvement makes a huge difference in counseling outcomes. Family members need information about the disorder, time to discuss how it’s affecting them, and to learn how to be truly supportive of their family member. Some families try to avoid the subject and pretend like it isn’t happening, even denying that bipolar disorder exists. Others become too involved and make it seem that everything that’s a problem in a patient’s life is because of bipolar disorder. Family counseling for bipolar disorder can help all of these issues. Family members can also be very helpful in identifying signs or symptoms of mood episodes and taking active steps to help prevent things from getting worse.

Stress and environment always impact our mood. You might have bipolar disorder, but you might be also facing challenges in relationships, work, or other areas of your life, maybe because of your bipolar disorder or perhaps not. Many people with bipolar disorder have had difficult childhoods because one of their parents had bipolar disorder. They may even have experienced trauma or abuse. Counseling can help with all of these issues.

A lot of people with bipolar disorder don’t view their mania as a problem. Understandable, since it can feel incredible and often lead to bursts of productivity. However, it comes with costs, sometimes severe, not the least of which is more intense depressive episodes. Talking about mania and learning to recognize it’s not always as great as it seems can encourage people to view a stable even mood as more desirable than feeling up.

Finally, and probably most importantly, it’s great to have someone to talk to who is nonjudgmental, understanding, and knows what it is like to go through life with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder can make you feel alone, flawed, or so different that you may not feel you can connect with other people. You may not have many or any other people to talk with you about bipolar disorder, either out of fear, denial, or because it’s just not wise for you to tell them. A great relationship with a therapist gives you a safe space to discuss your experience and get the support you need to live fully, despite having bipolar disorder.

Hopefully this article encourages you to seek counseling for bipolar disorder and understand the many benefits it provides in conjunction with medication. A high-quality life is possible with bipolar disorder. In fact, with counseling and medication, many people discover their life can be better than they even imagined despite their illness!