Bipolar disorder (BD) is a unique condition that manifests differently in every individual. People with BD I have different symptoms and symptom severity than those with BD II. Additionally, the rates of relapse and suicide deaths in clients with BD are heavily influenced by age of onset, prior episodes, and other symptoms. Because BD varies so much from person to person, the treatment for BD also varies, but the most commonly used approach is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in conjunction with medication. Studies that have examined the effectiveness of CBT for BD have suggested that it is more beneficial than treatment as usual or no treatment at all. However, few studies have examined how CBT compares to supportive therapy (ST) when delivered equally. To address this question, Thomas D. Meyer of the Department of Clinical and Developmental Psychology at the Institute of Psychology at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany recently led a study that measured the relapse rates, cognitive control, and symptom severity in individuals receiving CBT compared to those receiving ST.
Meyer evaluated 76 individuals with BD after they completed 9 months of either ST or CBT. The participants were monitored at posttreatment and for 2 years after. Meyer found that when compared to an equal number of ST treatments, CBT did not provide more positive results. Specifically, the individuals in both groups realized similar decreases in symptoms and similar posttreatment gains. The results also indicated that CBT did not provide superior relapse protection, as demonstrated by the 64% of participants who did experience a relapse during the study period. However, Meyer points out that relapse rates and survival rates were significantly influenced by the history of episodes, onset age, and type of BD, not by the type of treatment alone. In sum, Meyer believes that these findings show that CBT is a viable treatment option when there is no other method available but should not be used as a one-size-fits-all approach. He added, “Given that there are several psychological approaches for BD, future research should focus on the question of matching patients to treatments.”
Meyer, T. D., Hautzinger, M. (2012). Cognitive behaviour therapy and supportive therapy for bipolar disorders: Relapse rates for treatment period and 2-year follow-up. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1429-1439.
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