Alternative and Complementary Therapies

In a previous post, the eMoods blog explored the addition of complementary and natural/alternative medications that can be used in conjunction with prescription medications to support wellness. For some bipolar patients, complementary or alternative medications are not an appropriate response; however, these patients may be seeking additional therapies that can support their journey to wellness that are not medicine based. 

We’ve compiled a list of some therapies that may be useful to further research or try; however it is important to remember that these therapies (and others) are being reviewed for their efficacy on an ongoing basis, and your doctor/prescriber should always be consulted when you are making changes to your wellness plan.

Potential Complementary/Alternative Therapies 

Meditation and YogaWhile this may be a first “go to” for stress relief, yoga, meditation and gentle exercises are perfect exercise choices for those managing their bipolar disorder. In additional exercise, these practices help encourage focus, mindfulness and allow for practice breathing well and slowing down. Sciences backs this notion – a 2011 study found that people with bipolar disorder who participated in a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for eight weeks reported significant improvements in executive functioning, memory, and the ability to initiate and complete tasks (Strange et al., 2011). Meditation and yoga are also fairly accessible and can be inexpensive – Youtube has a number of free videos; Android and Apple have a number of free or inexpensive apps for meditation, and local libraries, community centers, and even parks can have offerings for free or a small donation.

Massage – While massage can feel like an indulgence, it is important to remember the benefit of relieving stress and tension. For patients with bipolar disorder, the stress reduction and calming benefits of massage can significantly help manage their disorder. A quick guide to self-massage can help patients master some techniques at home. Additionally, some patients utilize acupressure for stress relief; a guide for acupressure at home is located here.

Light Therapy – Light therapy has been successful in helping patients finding the appropriate circadian rhythm so that they may establish good sleeping habits. Exposure to light and dark, and forced sleep changes have shown promising effects for those with depression and other mood disorders. Bipolar patients must focus on good sleep hygiene and habits, so light therapy can help patients develop new sleeping habits and help their bodies find natural rhythms.

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) – Interpersonal and Social Therapy is based on the idea that while bipolar disorder is primarily a biological illness, certain events or situations that bring high stress, conflict, or a disruption in personal relationships can trigger episodes of depression, or make it more difficult to handle. Like light therapy, IPSRT focuses on the circadian rhythms of a patient, and emphasizes the importance of daily routines to minimize potential relapses, and help patients deal with interruptions more productively (Inder et al., 2015). IPSRT does rely on patients continuing to take their medication so studies reflect this as a collaborative approach, but the study conducted by Inder et al. indicated success in several behavioral and interpersonal metrics with patients in the 15-36 age group.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a therapy designed to teach patients how to recognize underlying thought patterns that trigger mood swings and be more attentive to their feelings so they may take appropriate steps to manage them before they become too severe. Care providers who believe their patients with mood disorders would benefit from an intervention designed to help patients re-frame their thinking, and develop new strategies to deal with challenges, changes, and roadblocks frequently recommend CBT. 

Family-Focused Therapy – Holistic care acknowledges that managing mental health can be a group effort. In addition to the steps taken by the patient with BPD, some practitioners will emphasize family focused therapy. This form of therapy explores the family’s role and impact on supporting someone with BPD, as well as providing skills for managing stress and communication. The goal of family focused therapy is to help ease stress and create a healthy and supportive home environment, and help family members be active participants in patient wellness.


Bipolar is a manageable mental health disorder, but developing a wellness plan that guides a patient towards management can be challenging. Prescription medication is important, but many patients find that alternative therapies can greatly support the strides that a patient is making. Therapies like the ones listed above may be truly viable choices for patients who are interested in supplementing their medical regimen with non-medication based interventions. Working with a care team that includes your doctor, personal support network, and other care providers will help a patient develop an individualized approach to managing their bipolar disorder.

  • Bendetti, F. (2012). Antidepressant chronotherapeutics for bipolar depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(4), 401-411. 
  • Inder, M., Crowe, M., Luty, S., Carter, J., Moor, S., Frampton, C., and Joyce, P. (2015). Randomized, controlled trial of Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy for young people with bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder, 17(2). 128-138.
  • Stange, J. P., Eisner, L. R., Hölzel, B. K., Peckham, A. D., Dougherty, D. D., Rauch, S. L., and Deckersbach, T. (2011). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Bipolar Disorder: Effects on Cognitive Functioning. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 17(6), 410–419.