Long-Term Therapy More Effective for Bipolar Patients
> 4/10/2007 11:04:53 AM

While many employers and insurers have taken to the idea of affordably short-term cognitive behavioral therapy or "collaborative care" for mental illness, recent studies strongly suggest that intensive, open-ended psychotherapy, in combination with the appropriate medications, is the best treatment plan for those struggling with bipolar disorder. Traditional anti-depressants do very little to relieve the often severe emotional lows associated with the condition.

The relevant study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, centered around an experiment involving approximately 300 patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, each of whom were taking some form of prescribed mood stablizer throughout. 130 were assigned to undergo a "collaborative" therapy plan consisting of three sessions over six weeks in a summary of the therapeutic strategies shown to be most effective in treating the condition. The rest of the group was assigned to a 9-month regimen of one of the three more common psychotherapies (cognitive behavioral, interpersonal and social, and family-oriented therapy) which could include up to 30 sessions. Researchers followed each patient for a year, measuring degrees of emotional stability and quality-of-life issues. It stands to reason that, for most patients a greater number of sessions would equal a more positive outcome, but the statistical differences were significant: family therapy was the most successful of the options presented, and "In any given month, the researchers calculated, a patient undergoing longer-term therapy was more than one and a half times as likely to be well as one who had short-term treatment."

The study's most significant finding is further confirmation of the belief that brief therapy regimens are not enough to counter the ongoing influence of bipolar disorder, even when used in combination with effective mood stabilizers. Unlike some more common cases of depression, bipolar cannot be rectified in six weeks with a smattering of general advice. It is not a condition from which one "fully recovers," and continuing weekly therapy sessions offer clear benefits to a majority of patients. Insurance companies are understandably reluctant to cover a significant portion of the costs of open-ended therapy, but the study's authors argue that such considerations would be in their best interests, as the mental and physical damages wrought by bipolar disorder could ultimately prove to be much more expensive.

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