DBT for Bipolar Disorder

February 20, 2022

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), although not as well known as cognitive behavioral therapy CBT, is extremely effective at treating bipolar disorder. DBT is a type of therapy that emerged in the late 1980s in an effort to treat borderline personality disorder but has since proven to be helpful to people with bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. 

Bipolar disorder can cause you to have extreme mood swings. These extreme mood swings can affect your energy level, judgment, behavior, sleep, and more. The emotional lows that come with bipolar depression can be potentially dangerous as they can lead to suicidal ideation and ultimately suicide.

Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, it can be treated. Psychotherapy and psychiatry together can help many people with bipolar disorder live happy and meaningful lives. Negative thought patterns tend to come with mood disorders. These thought patterns are often referred to as cognitive distortions. 

If you’re bipolar, being stuck in negative thought loops can hinder you from getting better. Psychotherapy can address these thought patterns and help establish healthier ones. DBT teaches coping skills that, when utilized, can manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

In this article you’ll read about:

If you or someone you know has Bipolar depression, keep reading to learn more.

What is Bipolar Depression?

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that’s characterized by intense mood swings. This disorder, once called manic depression, can impair your ability to function on a day-to-day basis and can make maintaining healthy relationships with others difficult. 

The extreme mood swings that come with bipolar disorder fall into 2 categories - extreme emotional highs (manic/hypomanic) and extreme emotional lows (depressive). These 2 emotional states can occur in the form of mood episodes. This is where you may experience an extremely high or low state for a period of days or weeks.

Symptoms of a manic episode include:

Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

There are 3 different diagnoses that fall under the category of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar 1 is the most severe while cyclothymic disorder is the least severe.

Bipolar disorder seems to run in families as the majority of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have a family member who also has bipolar disorder.

These extreme mood swings/mood episodes associated with bipolar disorder can often be triggered by factors such as poor sleep and stress. Many people with bipolar disorder attempt to “self-medicate” to cope. It’s very common for a person who’s bipolar to have a substance abuse issue

Although bipolar disorder is a complex mental condition can be treated with medication and psychotherapy such as DBT. 

Here’s how DBT can help someone with bipolar depression.

What is DBT and How Does It Help People with Bipolar Depression?

Since its origin as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, DBT is now commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. DBT helps by teaching you coping skills such as mindfulness, emotional regulations, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

DBT can occur in different settings such as:

Even though you may have not heard of DBT, chances are you’ve heard the term “mindfulness”. Mindfulness has similarities to Buddhist meditation practices. It teaches you to focus on and completely experience the present moment. Focusing on your 5 senses can help you stay centered. This can look like:

 Being in the present moment can help break negative thought patterns by allowing you to take a step back and try and reframe how you’re perceiving a situation.

DBT also teaches you to be more flexible. When you find you are in a difficult situation with people you disagree with and factors you have no control over, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. DBT concepts help you let go of the need to control everything around you.

Mindfulness and practicing “flexibility” can help immensely with emotional regulation. Since emotions can be all over the place with bipolar disorder, it’s easy to see why emotional regulation is important.

Personal relationships can be hard to maintain if you have bipolar disorder. Emotional regulation doesn’t mean “having no emotions”.  It means you can be assertive in an appropriate manner and consciously listen to the other person and the needs they are expressing.

 DBT teaches you that two things that are opposite one another can exist at the same time. For example: “I am being as patient as I can right now, but I can still work on becoming more patient.” It doesn’t mean you’re either patient or impatient. 

People with bipolar disorder often have “black or white” thinking. One day you see yourself as the best son/daughter/etc ever and the next day you’re the worst.

DBT helps you see things in the “gray” area.

If you think you may have some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s important that you make an appointment with a mental health professional. Once you get the correct diagnosis, mental health professionals can start steering you in the right direction as far as treatment is concerned. 

It doesn’t have to just be DBT or CBT. You can utilize both. If you have bipolar disorder, with the right help you can live a truly happy and meaningful life. 

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