Bipolar patients are at risk for relapses of their illness even when undergoing optimal pharmacotherapy. This study was performed to determine whether combining family-focused therapy (FFT) with pharmacotherapy during a postepisode interval enhances patients' mood stability during maintenance treatment.
In a randomized controlled trial, 101 bipolar patients were assigned to FFT and pharmacotherapy or a less intensive crisis management (CM) intervention and pharmacotherapy. Outcome assessments were conducted every 3 to 6 months for 2 years. Participants (mean ± SD age, 35.6 ± 10.2 years) were referred from inpatient or outpatient clinics after onset of a manic, mixed, or depressed episode. FFT consisted of 21 sessions of psychoeducation, communication training, and problem-solving skills training. Crisis management consisted of 2 sessions of family education plus crisis intervention sessions as needed. Both protocols lasted 9 months. Patients received pharmacotherapy for 2 study years. Main outcome measures included time to relapse, depressive and manic symptoms, and medication adherence.
Rates of study completion did not differ across the FFT (22/31, 71%) and CM groups (43/70, 61%). Patients undergoing FFT had fewer relapses (11/31, 35%) and longer survival intervals (mean ± SD, 73.5 ± 28.8 weeks) than patients undergoing CM (38/70, 54%; mean ± SD, 53.2 ± 39.6 weeks; hazard ratio, 0.38; 95% confidence interval, 0.20-0.75; P = .003; intent to treat). Patients undergoing FFT showed greater reductions in mood disorder symptoms and better medication adherence during the 2 years than patients undergoing CM.
Combining family psychoeducation with pharmacotherapy enhances the postepisode symptomatic adjustment and drug adherence of bipolar patients.