Can You Outgrow Therapy for Bipolar Disorder?

July 15, 2014 Natasha Tracy

I have had years of therapy in my life to deal with bipolar disorder (and other assorted issues). I would say, at least 15. It makes my head spin thinking of all the therapists I have talked to in my time.

But I admit, I’m not in therapy now. I know, as a role model I probably should stand up and say that everyone needs therapy all of the time but I don’t think that. I think that you can outgrow therapy for bipolar disorder.

Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in therapy for bipolar disorder. If you haven’t had any – you need it. Trust me. Basically, I think therapy is good.

And I’m not the only one. When scientists studied bipolar disorder outcomes, they found that people who go to therapy and take medication do better than people who do one or the other exclusively.

My Experience in Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Therapy for bipolar can be an effective treatment for most people but can you outgrow therapy for bipolar disorder?There were times when therapy was essential for me just surviving my life and my bipolar disorder. There were times when going and talking to a therapist was absolutely critical for my mental health (what little there was of it).

But, over the course of many years, the need for this became less and less. Over the years, I realized I wasn’t getting anything out of therapy any more. The bipolar is in my brain. No amount of talking will get it out and I have more advanced coping strategies than anyone I know, so therapists have virtually nothing to teach me (although I have taught them plenty). I would be better therapist than some of the therapists I have talked to.

Ongoing Bipolar Therapy

This is not to say that ongoing bipolar therapy doesn’t work for anyone. Of course there are people who will always benefit from an honest outlet where they can talk about things they likely can’t talk about anywhere else. So I’m not saying you should stop therapy, no matter how long you’ve been going. If it works for you, it works for you, and that’s what matters.

What I’m saying, though, is that it is possible to get to a place when bipolar therapy is no longer helpful, and that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel like just because you have a mental illness you have to be in lifelong therapy. There are only so many things therapists can teach you and you may get to a point where that is simply no longer useful.

And, by the way, this doesn’t mean that I will never re-enter therapy in the future. I may find it’s something that I want again. And that’s okay too.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitteror at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2014, July 15). Can You Outgrow Therapy for Bipolar Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Ellen R. Vanous
September, 1 2017 at 4:39 pm

I believe you can outgrow therapists. I went for 11+ years to the same psychiatrist/councelor. She expected me to continue on, and on, and on. I found I knew more than she. She tried to trip me up on what I told. That irritated me and I grew not to trust her. Obviously she didn't believe what I told her. I have been without her for 7 years now and only see a different Psychiatrist. I am more in control of myself and don't need to let him inside my thoughts. I learned alot from my past and am doing well on minimum meds. It is wonderful. Psychiatrists aren't miracle workers. You need to work on yourself and take responsibility for yourself. It is amazing how you feel when you do that.

August, 24 2014 at 7:41 pm

One can also outgrow psychiatrists. I mean, with the right therapist and psychiatrist working together on your behalf, you can learn how to take care of yourself. Then they can let you go. Not only can one learn how to cope, but one can learn how to be doctor of oneself. Then all you need is any doctor willing to prescribe what you need to take care of yourself. This takes discipline and a long time to learn. But it is a path to recovery. Recovery does not have to mean a life without the meds or the diagnosis. It can mean being able to be in total command. We can decide. It's possible.

August, 21 2014 at 10:36 am

My 23 year old daughter has had overt bipolar symptoms for the last decade, but was not properly diagnosed with bipolar until last summer. We (we, because this has been a journeyed partnership) have been to numerous psychiatrists and therapists over the years which has resulted in my having lost regard for the profession. This being said, I am not whatsoever suggesting that anyone should not seek therapy; my point will be directed toward proceeding with caution when searching for a good team (psychiatrist & therapist).
We live in a major metropolitan area where we have access to many highly regarded institutions and practices, of which we have turned to time and again. With each new psychiatrist and therapist I presented a typed out description of my daughter's history, which in retrospect clearly defined a person struggling with bipolar disorder. If read at all, it was dismissed, and the attention each time was focused solely on the immediate presenting symptoms, whether that be the manic or depressed phase. After doing my own research I asked the first psychiatrist (whom we saw throughout the high school years)on two separate occasions if it was possible that my daughter had bipolar disorder; the first time the question was ignored, the second evoked a "maybe". The doctor's indifference led me to believe that whether or not she had it was inconsequential to the treatment she was receiving. I after all, had little more than a high school education and she was an MD in the field of psychiatry, so who would know better? Again in retrospect, this doctor did damage to my daughter's psyche by approaching her as a slacker at school and as a discipline problem (why aren't you completing your assignments, missing so much school, how do you expect to get into college?) I thank the lucky stars that I had the where-with-all to listen to, and believe, what my daughter expressed she was experiencing. I had no confidence in my own intelligence, but I was 100% assured of my daughter's brilliance and driving desire to be a high achiever. I knew in my soul the depth of her pain from not being able to realize her potential; I felt the monster in her head ripping her mind apart and knew she had no choice but to remain in bed for weeks.
With only a diagnosis of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), I advocated for her at school to buy her time between episodes (she ended up graduating with honors and received an academic scholarship from a highly competitive and prestigious college as a result of her exceptional IQ and determination along with generous teachers). I had become her therapist without realizing it, talking her down from suicidal ideations, redirecting her distorted thinking, and assuring her that we were in this together and would not stop searching for answers. I promised that we would get this worked out and she would one day have a good life. Therapists we did see worked off the doctor's GAD diagnosis (again, despite the history I provided them) and sessions consisted of little more than my daughter playing mind games with lesser intelligent people.
College became a continuation of high school, she would start off like gang busters, her superior intelligence and unique skills were quickly realized by her professors, and then the bottom would all the sudden fall out and she became paralyzed, anxious, and more depressed than any person should ever have to experience. We then turned to the university's mental health department with a cocky psychiatrist who blurted out with obvious ego that he was always right. At this stage she was at her height of a manic episode and he told her that this is just who she was, hysterical, manipulative, etc, etc. He said he would not treat her unless she was hospitalized and prescribed dialectical behavior therapy (where according to the doctor,the therapists require their own therapy as a result of offering the therapy), indicating but not stating, that she had borderline personality disorder (once more ignoring the patterns I described in the history I provided). Not having gone the hospitalization route before, I encouraged my daughter to try it. The bottom line here was that as she begged me not to leave her alone there when they told me I had to go (because it wasn't fair for the other patients who had no one to stay with them), there was no way I could leave her in that God forsaken mental ward; I knew the resulting damage to her psyche would be one that would take years, if ever, to recover from. One would hope to find a more compassionate staff and less "one flew over the cuckoo's nest" aesthetic in a university hospital. Despite this being a voluntary admittance we were told we would need the doctor's authorization for her to be released. Having maintained my calm and collective for the sake of my daughter, they have no idea the war I was about to wage on this place. I did assert that not allowing my daughter to leave was unconditionally unacceptable and that they should do whatever was necessary to discharge her and that I was going nowhere without her. This doctor and his direction was an absolute horror of an experience, one that required months of working with my daughter to assure her that she was the person she'd always known herself to be and not the horrible person this doctor said she was.
The next attempt for help was at the university counselling center where we went simply for direction on what we should attempt next. This time I was very assertive about my belief that my daughter had bipolar disorder. I presented my argument, with my daughter's input of course, and asked if she felt there was any merit in my logic. I was stunned and elated when she agreed that it was very likely. She was no in the position to diagnose, but given the history, she said it certainly sounded as if this would be the case. While on the one hand, no one wants for their child to have to receive such a difficult diagnosis, but on the other, more relevant hand, it meant we had a direction and hope for getting her the help she needed.
Insurance limitations narrowed our choices for a new psychiatrist, but the angels were looking out for us this time when I randomly selected a doctor from a relatively short list. He was an elderly, old school gentleman who took my opinion into consideration. He approached my daughter from strictly from a medical standpoint; opening up the DSM (which had never been done before)and asking point by point questions pertaining to mood disorders. There was no personality judgment in the air which was so thick and clear with all our other encounters. He offered complete confidence that she could be successfully treated and stated that this time next year she would not recognize her life and would be living her academic dreams. The medication he prescribed actually began its magic in little over a week. He later went on to diagnose her with ADD,for which the medication not only has allowed her focus and attention to detail, but served as a redemption after having been chastised for so many years by previous psychiatrists and teachers for being disorganized (yet another personal shortcoming she was blamed for). By compromising her dosage so as not to lose her cognitive abilities, she is still faced with up and down bipolar challenges, but with strategies around them that we figure out as we go along, she has been able to find her way through the most difficult times and has succeeded in her academic endeavors.
Certainly, there is more to life than academia and that will be the next step to be addressed, but first she needs time to learn who she is and confirm who she is not. The professionals who were to have helped her, have loaded a lot of extemporaneous BS in her head that has proven to be an impediment to her self-realization. Slowly, as her self-confidence grows, she is releasing the ideas about herself that they planted into her head. She is a complex individual with many nuances, not someone who can be summed up with a few ideas or interpreted in a few months of weekly sessions, so for the time being, I continue to be her therapist. Being one whose tendency is to keep her cards close to her vest no matter who they are, she opens up the most with me (and she can't bs me as is her tendency in therapy). At this point in her development I believe this dynamic serves her well, but just by the nature of being her mother I can only take her so far.
I've felt that it was incumbent upon me to give her room to learn to comfort herself, which as a perhaps overly empathetic mother, has proven to be the most painful challenge I've forced on myself. Despite difficult periods, she has done well on making this transition. I've also made a point of teaching her how to be a good friend, even during her most difficult times, as it is a significant element of every relationship, even mother/daughter relationships. As she has matured, I've told her how her behaviors affect me and not only has it cleared the air between us, she now acknowledges and apologizes when she is being unreasonable and I'm reminded that she can't help it and I attempt to accommodate her the best I can and when it's over, it's over, and we carry on with no baggage left behind. She has proven to be an exceptional friend to the two close ones she has in her life, not just in consideration of her bipolar disorder, but in comparison to anyone. She has yet to share in an intimate relationship with a man, prospects that captivated her in the past, have terrified her to the point of letting a good one get away. But when the right person comes along and is able to penetrate her armor, a world of wonderment with a new set of emotional challenges will open up to her. Of course I will be here for her, but I imagine it will be her friends who will gain her confidence and help direct her through the maze of intimate love and that's how it should be, how I hope it will be.

August, 2 2014 at 7:12 pm

Actually I have to disagree with some of the premises, the most notable one being: "The bipolar is in my brain. No amount of talking will get it out and I have more advanced coping strategies than anyone I know, so therapists have virtually nothing to teach me (although I have taught them plenty)."
1. You should read this article, citing one from Nature:
2. Whether one "out-grows" therapy depends on the reason for therapy and the therapeutic relationship. ALong with the reasons, consider also timing thereof. Regarding the latter, research has shown it to be the most important element in successful therapy. The therapeutic relationship amounts to the rapport a patient has with his or her therapist.
As far as reasons, there are dozens upon dozens. You may see a therapist "just" to vent, and also gain an objetive viewpoint. Therapy could be for "mwaintenance." You may wish to do Freudian-type therapy. DBT and/or CBT might be appropriate. You could need help with organizing daily living skills.
Timing is just that. A therapist could be the right therapist for you but it might not be the right time for you. What you gain at one point in time, you won't gain at another. SImilarly with different therapists (ie. the therapeutic relationship).
It's also wise to remember that you will plateau with a therapist every now and then. That doesn't mean therapy is necessarily over or that you should necessarily find a new therapist. It simply means you and your therapist need to reevaluate where you stand.

Kathleen P. Brannon
July, 26 2014 at 10:51 am

Most people with bipolar have co-occuring disorders especially anxiety and zpztSD. Talk therapy for those things is often really helpful, even essential, and sometimes long-term. A lot of people - like Liz - have also experienced trauma and it's hard to work through that on your own. So there are a lot of psychological problems that can go along with bipolar and you might need a therapeutic relationship to understand and cope with them.

Judy Nicol
July, 24 2014 at 10:33 am

Have you read the book "nutrient Power heal Your Biochemistry Heal Your Brain" by William J Walsh.? While BiPolar is one of the harder mental health conditions to treat this person's protocols have helped quite a number of people with minimum side effects. Book has sold over 30,000 copies and he addressed American Pysciatric Conference on Depression in May

July, 23 2014 at 12:44 pm

I was diagnosed with Bipolar 8 years ago. At first I fought the diagnoses, saying that I only got the deep depression ( I spent 11months in a Mental Facility) but never had mania. In the Hospital I received wonderful care and was treated with respect and never judged. My underlying problem was sexual, physical and emotional abuse by a close relative oveer a 15 year period. I had never addressed this painful time in my life. I felt it was my fault and I was so ashamed so I locked it away.... Then an incident triggered it all off and the Pandora box was wide open. I had a breakdown and made a very serious attempt to take my own life believing every one would be better off without me.
I feel blessed when I am feeling well that I lived but when I am back in that Black Pit I just want to be left alone to die. Since then I have had 2 Manic Episodes... The experts were right... I am Bipolar. My last Manic Episode was euphoric, I felt invincible , I was so full of energy... There weren't enough hours in the day for all I wanted to do. I didn't have the tools to handle this ... I just thought I was "Happy" for the first time in so long. Eventually my family did an Intervention and I was "locked up". This time in an overcrowded and understaffed unit. I was drugged and abused and had panic attack after panic attack. As soon as I could Isigned myself out of there. Then I was paranoid and cut myself off from all my family and friends.
When I came down I hit rock bottom. It took me a long time to trust anyone again.
I then struck Gold... I was put in touch with a young intelligent Psycologist and a Psychiatrist ( the Pill person) . It has taken me 8 long months, seeing my Psycologist every week to get me where I am today. He is my security blanket at the moment and probably my best friend. I am back working part time, I have made amends with my family and I am slowly moving back into society.
I know that shortly I will be able to cut down on my visits but and it's a BIG BUT ... I need the security to know that there is someone out there that "get's me" and knows my history.
I am moving out of the dark anto the light and I am happy ... Not manic

July, 23 2014 at 3:55 am

As a therapist, I agree with you. My goal is never to keep you in life long therapy! My goal is to make sure you (and others) are safe, then teach you coping skills, work as you modify them to be effective for your individual needs, prepare you for discharge and then let go. You can always come back when needed, but if I have done my job, you feel , at least mostly, confident you can do it on your own. Good luck! Keep sharing! You are making a difference!

July, 22 2014 at 11:21 am

I have the same experience with knowing more about my conditions than my therapist. There is only so much the books can teach them. But I still find use in having someone who listens with an open mind and does not put a stigma on mental health.

July, 19 2014 at 9:19 am

Your comments resonated strongly with me, Natasha. I have been in therapy for a few years off and on when it seemed I needed it. Recently my therapist of 2yrs. had to take an extended leave of absence. It catapulted me into action. I came face to face with how much I was still expecting to be 'rescued' by someone else instead of assuming responsibility for myself. I find that although I am grieving deeply my goals have crystallized and I am finally taking action in behalf of myself. I have decided to continue therapy but this time I am going in with clarity and this time I actually look forward to the time I can live without therapy until and if I need it again.

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