Background. The efficacy and effectiveness of cognitive therapy (CT) is well established for unipolar disorders, but little is known about its utility in bipolar disorders. This study aimed to explore the feasibility and efficacy of using CT as an adjunct to usual psychiatric treatment in this patient population.
Method. Subjects referred by general adult psychiatrists were assessed by and independent rater and then randomly allocated to immediate CT (N=21) or 6-month waiting-list control, which was then followed by CT (N=21). Observer and self-ratings of symptoms and functioning were undertaken immediately prior to CT, after a 6-month course of CT and a further 6-months later. Data on relapse and hospitalization rates in the 18 months before and after commencing CT were also collected.
Results. At 6-month follow-up, subjects allocated to CT showed statistically significantly greater improvements in symptoms and functioning as measured on the Beck Depression Inventory, the Internal State Scale, and the Global Assessment of Functioning than those in the waiting-list control group. In the 29 patients who eventually received CT, relapse rates in the 18 months after commencing CT showed a 60% reduction in comparison with the 18 months prior to commencing CT. Seventy per cent of subjects who commenced therapy viewed CT as highly acceptable.
Conclusion. Although the results of this study are encouraging, the use of CT in subjects with bipolar disorders is more complex than in unipolar disorders and requires a high level of therapist expertise. The therapy may prove to be particularly useful in the treatment of bipolar depression.