A variety of helpful resources and professionals are available to provide support for those with bipolar disorder. Some people decide to work with multiple skilled professionals who specialize in various components of their treatment. An example of a treatment team may include a psychiatrist who prescribes medication, a therapist who offers weekly support, and a caseworker who helps coordinate services. An ideal approach is to find treatment providers who already work together, preferably in the same center. This will help ensure that your treatment team works closely together to provide the best care. Often though, the treatment team approach isn't available in a given area, or you may find that you really like one provider who isn't part of a larger team. If members of your treatment team don't work in the same place, it's a good idea to provide written permission for members of your treatment team to talk to each other. This way, they can work collaboratively to provide the best quality of care. The goal is to work with people you feel comfortable with who are also able to help you navigate the variety of available treatment options so you can make informed decisions about your health care. Finding the treatment providers who are right for you can take time, but in a way this is good news because it means you have a lot of options.
Doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists, oh my! Selecting a treatment provider can be confusing if you don't know the difference between the types of services and help various mental health professionals can offer. When researching possible treatment providers, pay special attention to their degrees, training, and specialties. This information will help determine the kind of help they can offer and what types of treatment services they provide.
Psychiatrists, who hold medical degrees such as MD, are treatment providers who can prescribe medications, much like your primary care physician. However, they also have specialized training in diagnosing and treating mental illness. Since most people with bipolar disorder decide to take medication to help treat their symptoms and extend periods of wellness, it's likely that you'll have a psychiatrist on your treatment team. Typically, you'll see your psychiatrist about once a month or less for medication checkups, or sooner if you have a medication emergency. Alternatively, you may choose to receive medication advice and prescriptions from your primary care physician. Although this is often a more convenient and affordable way to get medications, these doctors don't have the specialized training in mental illness that psychiatrists receive as part of their medical training.
As we'll discuss in chapter 4, there are a variety of different types of therapy, and several that are especially effective for bipolar disorder. Therapist is a term used to describe anyone who provides talk therapy (for example, a psychologist or social worker). Just as there are different therapy styles, therapists have different training backgrounds and experience. You'll have to do some research to find therapists in your area who are skilled and knowledgeable about bipolar disorder; however, we have provided some information to help you in your search, both in this chapter and in the Resources section.
Psychologists, who hold degrees such as PhD or PsyD, are doctors who have received extensive training in mental illness, just like psychiatrists, but their specialty is in therapy, not medication. In some states (currently just New Mexico and Louisiana), psychologists can receive additional training that allows them to prescribe medications. Check with local psychologists to see if you can receive therapy and medication services from one provider.
Social workers, marriage and family therapists, and caseworkers, who hold degrees such as MSW, MFT, or LCSW, also receive specialized training in working with people with mental illness diagnoses. They can offer therapy and support and can also help with navigating government and community services.
Nurse practitioners, who hold degrees such as NP-C, ARNP, CNP, and PMHNP, can also offer psychological services and often work closely with psychiatrists to coordinate care. They receive additional training in diagnosing and treating both medical and mental illnesses and can also prescribe medications. Although it is important to know that they have less specialized training in medications than psychiatrists, many nurse practitioners are more available at short notice in times of crisis.
Finding a mental health professional can be relatively easy if you know where to look. If you have insurance, you may want to start by researching the services and treatment providers covered by your insurance plan. You can also learn about services in your area through organizations you trust. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has created a Find a Pro search engine; it can help you find treatment providers in your area who have been recommended by other people with bipolar disorder (find-apro.dbsapages.org). The National Network of Depression Centers website is another resource that can help you find organizations in your area that specialize in the treatment of depression (www .nndc.org/centers-of-excellence). University hospitals and Veterans Affairs medical centers often have specialized clinics that can offer care to individuals with bipolar disorder. Finally, resources for finding therapists in your area are also available on the websites of professional psychological organizations, such as the American Psychological Association (locator.apa.org) and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (abct.org).
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Bipolar is a condition that wreaks havoc on those that it affects. If you suffer from Bipolar, chances are that your family suffers right with you. No matter if you are that family member trying to learn to cope or you are the person that has been diagnosed, there is hope out there.