Family-Focused Intervention Effective for Caregivers of Patients With Bipolar Disorder

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couples therapy
Patients associated with caregivers who received family-focused treatment also demonstrated a significant decrease in depressive symptoms compared with patients associated with caregivers in the control group.

According to new data published in Bipolar Disorders, family-focused treatment (FFT) is more effective than standard health education (HE) in reducing depression for both caregivers and patients with bipolar disorder.

Investigators conducted a 2-arm randomized controlled trial with 46 participants. In the first study arm, caregivers were randomly assigned to 12 to 15 weeks of FFT, in which they received education on illness management for bipolar disorder and information on self-care strategies. In the control arm of the study, caregivers received 8 to 12 sessions of standard HE, a didactic approach to delivering information on bipolar disorder. Both caregivers and patient counterparts were evaluated at baseline, immediately posttreatment, and 6 months posttreatment.

FFT was associated with a significant decrease in depressive symptoms for both caregivers and patients; caregivers treated with FFT showed a 48% reduction in depressive symptoms during the treatment and follow-up periods compared with a 22% reduction in caregivers who received HE. Additionally, FFT caregivers demonstrated a 41% improvement in overall psychological health, compared with a 21% improvement in HE caregivers. Patients associated with FFT caregivers also demonstrated a significant decrease in depressive symptoms compared with patients of caregivers in the HE groups (P =.04) during treatment and in follow-up. FFT was found to be particularly effective compared with HE in reducing symptoms of mania and hypomania.

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These findings indicate that an individualized FFT approach may be more effective in reducing depression in caregivers, and by proxy, the symptoms of bipolar disorder in their patients. Investigators noted that the small sample size and relatively low inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities may limit data generalizability. However,, these results may be effective in establishing treatment strategies for caregivers, in whom mood disorders and health problems often develop as a result of the difficulties of care.


Perlick DA, Jackson C, Grier S, et al. Randomized trial comparing caregiver-only family-focused treatment to standard health education on the 6-month outcome of bipolar disorder [published online March 12, 2018]. Bipolar Disord. doi:10.1111/bdi.12621