Family Focused Therapy Helps Reduce Teen Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Family Focused Therapy Helps Reduce Teen Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

A recent study done at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) offered some promising results. The research aimed to discover whether the use of Family Focused Therapy along with medication could help reduce symptoms of those adolescents diagnosed with Teen Bipolar Disorder.

The study evaluated 145 teens with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis and compared the use of medication and psycho-education as a form of treatment to the use of both medication and Family Focused Therapy.

Family Focused Therapy is sometimes simply known as Family Therapy. It is a type of therapy that focuses on the systems and relationships within a family network. It aims to change the relationship within families in order to help them better manage the specific problems they might be facing. This form of therapy is used with a wide range of mental illnesses and is based on two principles:

  • Many mental illnesses are made worse by the dysfunctions present in families.
  • Close family members are often the supports that an individual suffering from mental illness has and are therefore extremely important in treatment.

Based on these principles, Family Focused Therapy aims to change the way family members interact, improve the functioning of the family as a unit, and improve the functioning of individuals within the family.

The results of the study did in fact find that the teens who received both Family Focused Therapy as well as medication treatment for their Bipolar Disorder were more likely to have less severe symptoms after two years, compared to those teens who were treated with medication and psycho-education.

David Miklowitz, Ph.D., director of the Children and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program at UCLA, reported that Family Focused Therapy might be most useful when there are high levels of stress in the family and when the aim of treatment is to reduce symptoms of mania and hypomania.

Family Focused Therapy uses a variety of methods to help to improve the functioning of a family unit and its members. This form of therapy can use the following:

Psycho-education – Teaching the family about the illness in order to improve understanding and change any negative ideas about the illness and its effects

Teaching Coping Skills – Providing the family with skills to manage their lives as well as the effects of the mental illness on the family.

Behavioral Models – Teaching parents about ways to use positive and negative reinforcement to change difficult child behavior.

Systemic Models – Improving the systems within the family and help reduce dysfunction that might contribute to the illness.

Structural Models – Restoring a healthy family structure.

Post-Milan Family Therapy – Improving the communication among family members

Solution Focused Therapy – Identifying the strengths of the family and using those strengths to help some problems.

The report of the UCLA study did not indicate whether the above methods were used with teens in the research. However, even if some of the principles were used, it might be clear to see how the use of Family Focused Therapy along with medication could have help to reduce symptoms.

It is studies such as these that help mental health professionals further support the individuals they treat. Although the field of psychology is still growing, it is making leaps and bounds in its discoveries for better health and improved lives.



Family Focused Therapy (April 8, 2008). Virtual Medical Centre. Retrieved on March 25, 2014 from

Family Focused Therapy Reduces Bipolar Associated Symptoms in Teens, Study Finds (March 21, 2014). Psychiatric News Alert. Retrieved on March 25, 2014 from


– By Robert Hunt

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