Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder: Is it Effective?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redfield Jamison. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is psychotherapy for bipolar disorder effective? What role did it play in Kay Jamison’s recovery?

In her memoir An Unquiet Mind, Dr. Kay Jamison shares her experience with bipolar disorder and recounts how psychotherapy helped her manage her symptoms.

Read about Dr. Kay Jamison’s experience with psychotherapy for bipolar disorder management.

Healing Begins

After experiencing a hallucination during her a manic episode, Jamison decided to seek psychiatric help. Her therapist was the chief resident of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute where she interned. He’d supervised her work with patients and served as a rock of compassion and professionalism. He believed in medication to treat the symptoms of mental illness, but he also saw the value of psychotherapy for bipolar disorder management.

Her first appointment was a terrifying experience. She was embarrassed and vulnerable, having lost complete faith in herself and her mind. But when she entered the room, the doctor spoke to her with such reassurance that a crack of light appeared in the darkness. He was patient as she rambled incessantly about her condition. When she finished, he asked her a slew of questions about her behavior and symptoms. She knew these questions well, having asked them to patients hundreds of times during her education and professional work. 

When the examination was over, the doctor stated unequivocally that she suffered from manic-depressive disorder. He prescribed lithium and psychotherapy for bipolar disorder management. She was relieved to finally have a diagnosis and plan for help, but she feared what the medication would do to her. She used every excuse for her behavior she could find to explain it besides the diagnosis, but the doctor remained firm. She finally conceded and began her journey toward healing. 

Psychotherapy for Bipolar: The Road to Recovery

Jamison’s relationship with this therapist lasted for many years. She started seeing him once a week and more often when her depression was extreme or she was suicidal. In their psychotherapy sessions, he worked with her through every aspect of her emotional and psychological life. He understood how the medication affected her ability to create and find joy for life, but he also knew the dangers of not taking it. Because of this, he was always thoughtful in his insistence. 

Her doctor treated her with respect and as someone who was capable of getting better. He exuded confidence in her recovery, which helped her find the same confidence. He showed her how her illness affected her personal and professional life, and how the aspects of her personal and professional life affected her illness. He used psychotherapy to help her find the balance between the two and the road to a meaningful existence. 

Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder: Is it Effective?

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Here's what you'll find in our full An Unquiet Mind summary:

  • How Kay Redfield Jamison first experienced a manic episode at the age of 17
  • How her illness made Jamison buy taxidermied animals and multiple Rolexes
  • Why Jamison believes there are positives to her manic episodes

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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