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The Relationship of Stress to the Expression and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder – Part V

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The Relationship of Stress to the Expression and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder – Part V

by Julie Myers, PsyD, MSCP

Licensed Clinical Psychologist in San Diego;

Treatment (cont.)

Psychoeducation is universally accepted as an integral part of the psychosocial treatment protocol and includes learning aspects of healthy habits, behavioral changes, symptom management, and adherence (Colom & Vieta, 2006). Colom and colleagues (2003) designed a 21-session program, which educates patients about all aspects of their illness, such as treatment, symptoms, drug use, life style and stress management.  Other common goals of psychosocial treatment include decreasing denial, challenging assumption, monitoring moods, managing environmental triggers, relapse prevention and enhancing social and occupational functioning (Miklowitz, 2006).

Cognitive behavioral techniques are useful, since bipolar patients have distinct attributional styles and cognitive distortions.   Research linking stress and lowered social support to bipolar episodes suggest treatment target stress reduction, improvement of relationships, and altering perceptions, and treatment that addresses these psychosocial vulnerabilities may help alter the course of Bipolar I disorder (Cohen, Hammen, Henry, & Daley, 2004).   Patients are then taught to plan for potential events and learn new ways of resolving interpersonal difficulties.  This approach has shown great promise for the treatment of BD (Colom & Vieta, 2006).  Combination CBT and medication has shown to delay relapse, improve symptoms, and sometimes increase social functioning (Miklowitz, 2006).

Interpersonal Social Rhythm Therapy revolves around the notion that sleep-wake cycles are primary to symptoms and disruption of the cycles can act as a stressor.  Social rhythms, such as exercise and personal habit routines, social stimulation, and work, affect the sleep cycle (Miklowitz, 2006).  Social routines may actually entrain circadian rhythms; disruption may cause bipolar episodes, suggesting that minimization of stressful and social rhythm disruptions may prevent episodes (Malkoff-Schwartz, Frank, Anderson, Hlastala, Luther, & Houck, 2000). The client is encouraged to track mood, sleep, and events that lead to a disruption of the social-rhythm, such as a lost night of sleep.   Bipolar manic episodes may be more sensitive to social rhythm disruption and life events, as compared to other types of bipolar and unipolar episodes (Malkoff-Schwartz, Frank, Anderson, Hlastala, Luther, & Houck, 2000

Other treatment modalities are available.  Family-focused therapy focuses on family interactions and use of family members as allies in the treatment process (Miklowitz, 2006).  Skill training is used to reduce negative expression of emotion, which result in stress.  Group therapy is also used, which help patients learn to feel accepted and learn self-care strategies from one another.

I am personally interested in the use of biofeedback and neurofeedback to treat BD. Although there is no real “hard” evidence about its effectiveness with BD, largely due to the difficulty in replicating treatment in controlled experiments, anecdotal information from such people as Siegfried Othmer (one of the “fathers” of neurofeedback) convince me that the possibility for treating BD with neurofeedback are just beginning to emerge.   The use of biofeedback techniques for stress management in those with BD are useful, but must be administered with care.   Over-activation of the parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system may induce a bipolar event.

Of direct implication from the kindling hypothesis is the timing of intervention.  Intervention may be much more effective at the initial stages of expression than at later stages (Monroe & Harkness, 2005, p. 442).  By tackling the stressful life situations of those at risk early on, the course of the disorder may be changed.  How much of the developmental process is a reaction to life course and how much is an independent psychobiological process is as yet unknown, but begs for further investigation.  “The key implication of this study is that childhood adversity may be related to a more challenging presentation of bipolar disorder, with an earlier age at onset and greater vulnerability to experiencing recurrences of mood episodes in the face of even mild stress. Earlier onset and a more difficult course of bipolar disorder may have serious consequences for both the efficacy of treatment of bipolar disorder and for the functioning of bipolar individuals.  If childhood adversity is a trigger of earlier onset and sensitizes individuals to stress, preventing stress exposure in high risk families, or promoting coping capabilities in such youngsters might have positive consequences on the course of illness”  (Dienes, Hammen, Henry, Cohen, & Daley, 2006, p. 49).  Prevention of stress and early intervention may be critical in reducing the severity of the disorder in later life.

– Julie Myers, PsyD, MSCP


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Copyright (2011) Julie Myers, PsD

Written by Julie Myers, PsyD, MSCP

July 13, 2011 at 5:44 pm

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  1. […] used to treat bipolar disorder? ( Bipolar Disorder ( Relationship of Stress to the Expression and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder – Part V ( Wedge, Ph.D.: Childhood Bipolar Disorder: A Convenient Illusion […]

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