In the Spotlight: Individual Therapy

by Dr. Alisha Brosse, Director, Sutherland Bipolar Center

In individual therapy, patients meet one-on-one with a therapist, usually weekly. Good treatment always starts with thorough assessment, so the first few sessions are usually devoted to learning as much as we can about what has brought the person into treatment. We want to know about their history with bipolar disorder, what symptoms they currently are experiencing, whether they also have other areas of distress (such as anxiety or substance use problems), what other treatments they have engaged in, and what their goals are. We also want to learn a bit about them as a person: what are their hobbies and interests? Who are the important people in their lives? What really matters to them? What has bipolar disorder cost them?

Based on this initial assessment, we develop an individualized treatment plan that we believe will best help the person attain his or her goals. Our treatment plans rely most heavily on strategies drawn from research-supported treatment manuals, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), psychoeducation, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). We most commonly are targeting symptom reduction, relapse prevention, and improved quality of life.

The length of treatment varies greatly. Sometimes we see people who are moving soon, but want some help with that transition; we may meet for only a few sessions. At the other end of the spectrum, we continue to treat some people who we first met 14 years ago! Our default is to start with a 6-month treatment contract. At the end of the 6 months, we collaboratively review with patients their progress towards their goals. Together we decide if we should continue with the same treatment plan or make adjustments. For example, someone not already enrolled in our therapy group might join it; or, someone who has completed our basic skills group may transition to our advanced group. Or, perhaps we’ll adjust the frequency of therapy sessions (from weekly to bi-weekly, for example) to better meet their current needs.

Individual therapy is provided by me (a licensed clinical psychologist) and by four advanced doctoral students who work under my supervision. These student therapists already have their master’s degree in clinical psychology by the time they start seeing Sutherland Center patients in individual therapy. We are lucky that nearly all student therapists opt to renew their year-long contract and work with us for two or even three years! When it is time for them to move on to the next stage of their training, some of their patients are ready to take a break from therapy or to transition to someone in the community (if, for example, they are now more financially stable and able to afford such services). The others can transfer to another therapist on our team.

Here’s what some of our patients have said about their individual therapy:

“This is the first time I’ve ever felt very comfortable in therapy, thanks to you being able to process everything I’m throwing at you, and then briefly summarize it. I’ve never had anyone do that before so effectively, so that I can understand it better. I’m just worried I won’t find another person again like that because I’ve been searching for two years… I don’t know if they will be as effective…” – Patient to therapist, as patient prepares to move to another state

“Alta’s awesome… She is really astute [and] keeps sessions really tight. The therapy is working really well… I feel so lucky to have found the Center and benefit greatly from the therapy offered here.” – Patient in program review with center director

“I feel like I’ve come so far with individual therapy and group.” – Patient in written survey

“It’s feeling really good [with my new therapist, Natasha]. She’s like a little spark plug! [She’s] good about listening and helping with what she knows.” – Patient in program review with center director

“I’m in a much better place. I have all the tools… Derek has been a good fit. Individual therapy made things from group sink in more… Tools have helped with anxiety as well as depression pits.” – Patient in exit interview with center director

A heartfelt thank you to all of you who donate to the Sutherland Bipolar Center and make this treatment possible!