Background: Few studies have examined the combined effects of psychosocial treatment and pharmacotherapy for bipolar disorder. This study used a randomized, controlled design to examine a 9-month, manual-based program of family-focused psychoeducational treatment (FFT).
Methods: Bipolar patients (N = 101) were recruited shortly after an illness episode and randomly assigned to 21 sessions of FFT (n = 31) or to a comparison treatment involving two family education sessions and follow-up crisis management (CM; n = 70). Both treatments were delivered over 9 months; patients were simultaneously maintained on mood stabilizing medications. Patients were evaluated every 3 months for 1 year as to relapse status, symptom severity, and medication compliance.
Results: Patients assigned to FFT had fewer relapses and longer delays before relapses during the study year than did patients in CM. Patients in FFT also showed greater improvements in depressive (but not manic) symptoms. The most dramatic improvements were among FFT patients whose families were high in expressed emotion. The efficacy of FFT could not be explained by differences among patients in medication regimes or compliance.
Conclusions: Family-focused psychoeducational treatment appears to be an efficacious adjunct to pharmacotherapy for bipolar disorder. Future studies should evaluate family treatment against other forms of psychotherapy matched in amount of therapist-patient contact.