Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by mood swings that may take an individual from a euphoric high to a depressive low in a time period as short as several hours. The conventional treatment for bipolar disorder is to treat the individual with prescription medications to alleviate the symptoms.

Now, though, evidence is growing that supports the idea of family involvement in treating bipolar disorder. Involving the entire family can significantly benefit the individual. Sadly, a family approach to the treatment of bipolar disorder is fairly uncommon.

The effectiveness of this technique is growing harder to ignore. For example, in four separate studies conducted in three countries, it was discovered that the emotional responses of the family members to the individual with bipolar disorder had a significant impact on the recovery rates from episodes.

To be specific, research uncovered that those with bipolar disorder recover more quickly when family members are supportive and understanding. On the other end of the spectrum, individuals with bipolar disorder are slow to emerge from either a manic or a depressive episode if members of the individual's family display hostility or are highly critical of the person. Treatment is less effective if the family is overprotective of the individual with bipolar disorder as well. In addition to slowing a person's recovery from the symptoms, such negative behavior may very well only make the symptoms worse or trigger more frequent relapses.

Another study conducted in 2003, turned up similar findings. A two-year randomized controlled trial of 101 individuals suffering with bipolar disorder, indicated that those who completed at least 21 sessions of family-focused therapy, in addition to receiving the traditional drug treatment, not only experienced fewer relapses, but also had less severe symptoms. Additionally, this group also maintained their medication regime for bipolar disorder better.

Yet a third study, conducted in April of 2007, found that those with bipolar disorder who, in addition to receiving drug therapy, also received weekly sessions of intensive psychotherapy, recovered faster from the depressive episode of bipolar disorder and actually stayed clinically well for a longer period of time. These results are compared to the group that received only a short psychoeducational intervention of three sessions.