Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for bipolar depression

Some evidence – there is enough evidence to indicate that this can be a helpful treatment option.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions (behaviour) are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. 

Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. 

There are very few studies of CBT specifically for bipolar depression in young people, and most of what is known comes from studies of depression in young people who don’t have bipolar disorder (sometimes called ‘unipolar depression’), and also from studies of bipolar depression in adults. There is some evidence that it can be helpful in bipolar depression.  

If you are offered CBT it should be adapted for the treatment of a young person with bipolar disorder, and will usually involve work with both you and your family.   

You should be helped with: 

  • building consistent daily routines 
  • learning how to identify mood changes and triggers and finding new ways of coping  
  • reducing negative thoughts (for example through mindfulness techniques to raise awareness of negative thinking) 
  • developing a balanced lifestyle 
  • self-esteem and social skills  
  • behavioural activation, which is promoting activities that improve your mood and reduce social isolation and withdrawal. At first these might be very simple acts of self-care or daily routines.  

Family help includes: 

  • looking at communication patterns and learning how to change them 
  • strengthening support networks for families 
  • improved parental self-care, self- esteem, and confidence in coping  

CBT for bipolar depression also includes psychoeducation about bipolar depression. You will usually have weekly individual sessions as well as family sessions involving parents and sometimes other family members. CBT for bipolar depression usually takes place over at least 3 months, but is often longer.  

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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