This -- this system is the gift I wish I could give to the people I meet on Twitter who struggle with their bipolar, who are in endless rounds of medication adjustments and medication failures and medication despair. Medication isn't the only thing you can do. I'm not saying quit your meds. I'm saying, add social rhythms therapy. Originally posted in 2011:
Ellen Frank - Treating Bipolar Disorder, Part 2
So you have bipolar. You know you have bipolar. You are way past the denial stage. You are into the pulling out your hair, screaming with frustration stage. Or maybe moved on to despair stage. Because:
- The medication sucks.
- You keep getting sick again anyway.
IPSRT [Interpersonal Social Rhythms Therapy] is one of three psychotherapies tested by the National Institute on Mental Health in its recent major study of best practices for treatment of bipolar disorder. The Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder, STEP-BD discovered that Patients taking medications to treat bipolar disorder are more likely to get well faster and stay well if they receive intensive psychotherapy.
Do I have your attention? Today we continue with Ellen Frank's Treating Bipolar Disorder, in which she describes this therapy of her invention.
What Happens In IPSRT
After diagnosis with bipolar I or II (primarily designed for bipolar I), IPSRT proceeds roughly in four stages:
- history-taking with education about bipolar and orientation to the treatment
- evaluating and then stabilizing social rhythms
- addressing interpersonal problem areas appropriate to the individual
- monitoring progress and termination
An Integrative Theoretical Model: Social Zeitgeber Theory
Off Kilter. Like:
Here is the flow chart for Social Zeitgeber Theory, with my comments in italics:
IPSRT Theory Integrates Social, Psychological and Biological Explanations Of Mood Episodes
This is really good news for people whose medication isn't up to doing the whole job.
Lots of case studies make the book readable and illustrate points along the way. Frank tells the stories of individuals who functioned well until a disruption in social patterns triggered a depression or a mania.
An IPSRT therapist helps the client create a time line tracking the current and past episodes of depression, mania and hypomania with attention to what preceded the onset, or started the descent into the train wreck outlined above, particularly disruptions in social rhythms. This history-taking begins the educational process and makes the case for the behavioral changes the therapist will recommend.
As I read, episodes from my own life came to mind. I used to be a legislator in a national church convention that happens every three years -- extremely stimulating events. I was on 14-16 hours a day, 11-12 days in a row. I would be living in strange surroundings, eating restaurant food at irregular hours, on a work schedule invented by the devil. I always "rose" to the occasion, was energetic, productive, persuasive, effective, charming... hypomanic. Some of my readers can give an Amen to that statement. What they didn't know was that I went home from two weeks of brilliance to begin another several months of depression. The classic bipolar II cycle before it progressed to rapid cycling.
This life review did indeed make the case for me. There is no IPSRT therapist in my area. So I moved on to stage two on my own.
Evaluating And Stabilizing Social Rhythms
The challenge begins here. Having come to suspect that irregular habits contribute to mood disturbances, now we establish just how irregular the client's habits are.
Never mind. They figured out which five activities give you the most bang for your buck. The book recommends the five item version for clients who are not well enough to do track all seventeen. I hope sometime since the book was published, Frank has changed her interpretation of the resistance to the longer instrument. Maybe it's not the clients who are too sick to do it. Maybe it's just an unwieldy instrument.
So I started to track five items. The shorter instrument also asks how stimulating the activity was on a 0-4 scale. By the third day, I was in tears and had managed to record no more than two activities each day. Toward the end of the book, Frank acknowledges that people who have been sick a long time may have cognitive deficits and be able to handle only one or two items.
That's me, cognitive deficits.
Choose A Place To Start
Nevertheless, I moved on to a decision -- get up at more or less the same time every morning.
There are other self care activities/rhythms anchored by getting out of bed. If I am out of bed before I drink my first cup of coffee, I do my stretches, I say my prayers -- habits that went by the wayside when my out of bed time was disrupted a couple years ago.
There is significant meaning attached to doing these self care activities that are anchored by getting out of bed -- which affects my mood.
Pretty soon I've got some positive movement in social, psychological and biological realms, my whole person. My normal baseline, from which I veer violently up and down, is mild depression. Lately, that seems to have lifted ever so slightly. We'll see.
See, I didn't need to track five items.
That's Fine For You But My Life Isn't That Regular...
I never said that IPSRT is easy. But it might help.
In fact, it seems pretty difficult to me. And Frank acknowledges that. Treating Bipolar Disorder is written for clinicians. Her advice to clinicians is to expect resistance, to normalize resistance, and to review, whenever needed, the multiple motivations for the difficult changes that are required.
- What did the time line indicate? Is there a connection between loss of social rhythms and onset of episodes? (If not, then this is not the therapy for you.) But if there is...
- What has this illness cost you already? What will it cost you in the future if you cannot manage your symptoms better?
- What issues (therapy-type issues) prevent you from making these changes?
We continue with issues, the IP part of IPSRT, next.