One, Two Punch: the “Tag-Team” Approach to Treating Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression) affects 2.8% percent of Americans over 18. It is a mood disorder that causes unusual shifts in one’s mood from high, which is referred to as a manic episode, to low, which is referred to as a depressive episode.

Patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder usually fall under one of two categories: bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Categorization is based on the severity, frequency, and rate of mood swings.


Despite categorical differences, bipolar disorder generally causes rapid shifts in one’s mood, directly impacts day-to-day functioning in professional, academic, or social settings. It can also cause psychotic symptoms (i.e., hallucinations or delusions).

Manic and hypomanic episodes are characterized by:

  • Increased participation in goal-directed activities
  • Irritability and agitation, restlessness, and racing thoughts
  • An increase in risky and impulsive activities, particularly pleasurable ones (i.e., eating or sex.)
  • Feelings of grandiosity or self-importance

On the contrary, depressive episodes cause symptoms such as:

  • Decrease in energy, interests, decision-making skills, and concentration
  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness
  • Consistent insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide or attempting suicide

Interventions for Bipolar Disorder: What Is the “Tag-Team” Method? 

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but it is possible to reduce the adverse effects associated with the condition. Studies have shown that a combination of pharmacology and psychosocial treatment reduces the frequency and intensity of symptoms, prevents possible episodes, and improves overall functioning.

Employing comprehensive interventions reduces the number and intensity of manic and depressive episodes. Doing so can also improve overall functioning, and strengthen a patient’s ability to cope with stressors.

Side By Side

Bipolar disorder looks different for everyone, so treatment methods will vary based on the person. Nevertheless, bipolar disorder is a complex illness and is best treated collaboratively. Patients receive the best care when they collaborate with physicians and mental health professionals by using a combination of psychosocial and pharmacological treatments.

Pharmacological Interventions

Mental health professionals sometimes use medication to restore health and improve a patient’s ability to function, especially during the early stages of treatment. Mood stabilizers (Lithium, Lamictal), antipsychotics (Latuda, Abilify), and antidepressants (Symbyax) have proven to be effective at treating bipolar disorder.

Pharmacological treatments can be prescribed individually or as an adjunctive for other medications. Patients may experience several side effects and are even at risk for misusing or abusing prescriptions. Therefore, patients must see a licensed physician for pharmacological treatments and take it exactly as directed.

There have been significant advances in pharmacological interventions for bipolar disorder. However, medication alone does not specifically address a patient’s triggers, trauma, or psychosocial stress. Psychosocial interventions, also known as behavioral treatment, helps patients accept their diagnosis and develop the tools they need to manage it.

Psychosocial Interventions

Pharmacological treatments are a great way to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder. Still, psychosocial interventions are adjunctive to medication and can be the most effective way of managing both immediate and long-term effects. The most common behavioral treatments for bipolar disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), family-focused therapy, and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy.

Good Things Come In Threes

Bipolar disorder is commonly treated by a combination of three types of therapy:

#1. Cognitive-behavioral theory (CBT) is a form of therapy that aims to help patients accept their illness. It also helps them learn healthy ways to reconstruct their thought processes and reduce cognitive distortions that contribute to recurring episodes.

It improves a patient’s ability to identify triggers for early intervention. The goal of CBT is to establish familiarity with warning signs, physical sensations, or mood changes that indicate symptoms of an episode.

#2. Family-focused therapy (FFT) is a collaborative effort between a patient, their mental health professional, and their family. This type of therapy focuses on psychoeducation and problem-solving. It also helps family members re-engage and reestablish each member’s role in the family by fostering open communication.

#3. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (ISRT) helps prevent symptoms of bipolar disorder by stabilizing the patient’s biological rhythm. It does this by establishing a daily routine that encourages health maintenance, medication adherence, and healthy coping techniques. The goal of ISRT is to regulate the patient’s sleep and wake rhythms to prevent future mood instability.


Combining pharmacological interventions (symptom maintenance) and psychosocial treatments (cognitive reconstruction, repairing family relationships, health maintenance) to treat bipolar disorder is a comprehensive way to manage a complex condition. Bipolar disorder makes it hard to organize thoughts, make sound decisions, and solve problems. Using a “tag-team” approach for treatment helps patients develop the ability to control symptoms, prevent relapse, and effectively solve problems.

Bipolar disorder is a biological illness; thus, medication can prove to be beneficial in correcting the problems caused by changes in your body’s chemicals. However, it takes more than just medication to honestly and effectively manage the disorder. Psychosocial interventions pick up where the medication leaves off. The two work together in an impressive display of tandem, effectively complementing each other regarding your well-being. Bipolar disorder is just one of the many mental health disorders that Valiant Living can help you or someone you love to overcome. At our scenic location in Centennial, CO, our outpatient program specializes in treating men with coexisting disorders. If you or someone you love is in need of mental health or substance use treatment and is ready to make a positive leap forward, please contact us at  (303) 952-5035 today. Let us walk beside you as you begin the most important journey of your life.