Bipolar disorder is one of the most challenging psychiatric disorders.\u00a0 With moods that often hit crippling extremes and bizarre behavior that is difficult to understand \u2013 let alone explain to others \u2013 bipolar sufferers can feel very isolated and alone.\u00a0 Medication is often necessary, but has its limits.\u00a0 Individual and family therapy can also be very beneficial, but sometimes those are not enough to help cope with the stigma, medication side effects, and multiple complications that are par for the course. Group therapy can help fill in the gaps from other types of treatment. It\u2019s not uncommon for people to think of psychotherapy as a primarily one-on-one interaction.\u00a0 One in which you spend 50 minutes or so sitting across from a psychologist or other type of therapist, discussing your most private struggles, pain, hopes (or lack thereof) and dreams.\u00a0 You talk; the therapist listens closely and asks a thought-provoking question now and then. (There\u2019s a bit more to it, of course, but that\u2019s the general idea.) Group therapy provides a very different experience.\u00a0 Granted, it\u2019s a bit daunting to some.\u00a0 Those with narcissistic tendencies feel they deserve to be the center of attention for the entire hour.\u00a0 Those feeling slightly paranoid may be quick to dismiss the idea because it feels far too risky to bare one\u2019s soul in a group setting. But for those merely struggling to manage the day-to-day challenges of living with bipolar disorder, involvement in group therapy can prove to one of the best decisions they ever made. Why is that? Following are some of the most salient advantages and benefits: It\u2019s Not \u2018Just Me\u2019 After All One of the biggest fears of just about anyone with a psychiatric disorder is that they\u2019re even more abnormal than others with the same diagnosis.\u00a0 Already prone to feeling a bit disconnected and isolated at times, individuals with bipolar disorder can feel very alone \u2013 despite having family and friends who truly care about them.\u00a0 But they know, deep down, that their well-meaning loved ones will never \u201cget it.\u201d \u00a0How can you truly convey what it\u2019s like to go through a manic episode to someone who\u2019s never been manic?\u00a0 How do you explain the depths of despair that often accompany a period of major depression? You go to therapy and hope that your therapist (whom you assume isn\u2019t bipolar and just understands it from a textbook perspective) \u201cgets\u201d you.\u00a0 But deep down, you\u2019re pretty sure she doesn\u2019t. But in group therapy, you\u2019re suddenly surrounded by a handful of other bipolar sufferers \u2013 people who really do \u201cget it\u201d! When you talk about various symptoms and episodes \u2013 and even the difficult side effects of mood stabilizers and antipsychotics \u2013 you get feedback and support from others who are walking in your shoes.\u00a0 And finally you realize, \u201cIt\u2019s not just me!\u201d You no longer feel completely alone and misunderstood.\u00a0 You no longer feel so weird.\u00a0 A heavy burden suddenly becomes much, much lighter. You stop resenting your therapist (and the group therapist) for not being able to truly understand.\u00a0 You no longer even need him or her to understand \u2013 because there are others who do. No Longer One-Sided Let\u2019s face it \u2013 individual therapy is extremely one-sided.\u00a0 And for clinically sound reasons \u2013 so it\u2019s a necessary and good thing.\u00a0 But even though that\u2019s a necessary factor, it can feel crummy at times.\u00a0 It feels like you\u2019re in a \u201cone-down\u201d situation.\u00a0 You\u2019re the \u201cbroken,\u201d \u201cmessed-up\u201d person and the therapist is the \u201cfixer\u201d \u2013 or at least that\u2019s how the dynamic often feels.\u00a0 You have nothing to give \u2013 except money in return for your therapist\u2019s time. In group therapy, you have something to offer.\u00a0\u00a0 Not only are you receiving the benefits of being in the group, you\u2019re contributing to them for the other members.\u00a0 They can benefit from your support, understanding, non-judgment, wisdom, and feedback. Therapy just took on a whole new dimension!\u00a0 You can turn this awful disorder \u2013 this negative aspect of your life \u2013 into something good.\u00a0 You can help other group members. You\u2019re no longer just the recipient \u2013 the \u201cpatient\u201d \u2013 you\u2019re also one of the givers.\u00a0 And that aspect has tremendous value, especially if you\u2019ve felt the fierce stigma of being bipolar. Invaluable Feedback From Peers Group therapy is unique in that it\u2019s a microcosm of your life in the real world.\u00a0 Over time, you\u2019ll find yourself facing some of the same interpersonal dynamics \u2013 good and bad \u2013 that keep coming up in your day to day life.\u00a0 If it\u2019s hard for you to trust, that will be an issue in group.\u00a0 If you tend to dominate conversations, that will be an issue in group.\u00a0 If you always play the victim, that will show up as well.\u00a0 And while it\u2019s one thing for a therapist to point these things out to you, it\u2019s often much more powerful when it comes from your peers.\u00a0 Not to mention, as you try on new behaviors or learn new skills, group therapy is a safe place to try them out and get invaluable feedback \u2013 from your peers, rather than just your therapist.\u00a0\u00a0 You\u2019ll learn a lot about yourself. Bonding and Healing Many people feel a bond with \u2013 or a strong attachment to \u2013 their individual therapist.\u00a0 That\u2019s important to a degree, because effective therapy needs the foundation of a strong therapeutic relationship.\u00a0 Without that trust and rapport, therapy typically fails.\u00a0 It ends up being a waste of time and little, if any, progress is made. Group therapy, however, takes that all a step further.\u00a0 It frequently elicits a strong sense of community \u2013 a closeness among the members.\u00a0 That can be both tremendously empowering and healing.\u00a0\u00a0 Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience a lot of suffering, in one form or another, long before they are ever diagnosed or in treatment.\u00a0 Family members may have been incredibly unkind; parents may have been unsupportive and, in some cases, even abusive.\u00a0 Kids at school may have bullied you because you were \u201cdifferent.\u201d In a group setting, you can begin the healing process.\u00a0 At least some of the other members will be able to relate.\u00a0 You can share openly without fear of being judged.\u00a0 You can connect in a way that helps old wounds begin to heal.\u00a0 The kindred spirit that often develops in a very focused therapy group (i.e. a group in which everyone has the same disorder or has suffered a similar trauma) can be powerful \u2013 it\u2019s like having a second (or in some cases the first real) family. Unique Yet Shared Experiences Being in a therapy group with other bipolar sufferers gives you the opportunity to discuss things that are fairly unique to individuals with your disorder.\u00a0 For example, mood stabilizers such as lithium and Depakote - medications used primarily to treat bipolar disorder (at least in psychiatric settings), can have challenging side effects.\u00a0 The same is true for antipsychotics \u2013 powerful drugs once used almost exclusively for the treatment of schizophrenia and related disorders, but now used regularly to treat bipolar symptoms as well. Manic episodes also occur primarily in bipolar I disorder.\u00a0 And, unlike a lot of disorders, bipolar disorder is often a lifelong disorder, a fact that triggers many other issues. Group therapy provides the perfect place to both share and discuss these unique experiences that most people \u2013 even those with other types of mental health conditions \u2013 won\u2019t understand.\u00a0 But fellow bipolar sufferers will understand.\u00a0 It\u2019s the perfect place to bring up and discuss these experiences that feel so unique \u2013 yet are frequently shared by other group members. Accountability Being part of a group \u2013 especially one in which there is significant bonding and trust \u2013 creates a healthy atmosphere of accountability.\u00a0 It\u2019s one thing for a therapist to hold clients accountable.\u00a0 But when a peer \u2013 another member of the group does the same \u2013 it can be very effective and quite powerful.\u00a0\u00a0 Group members can hold each other accountable in multiple ways, including in terms of attendance, participation, how each member interacts with the others, and progress. Less Expensive Let\u2019s face it \u2013 mental health treatment is very expensive, and insurance companies limit how much they\u2019ll cover in any given year \u2013 and it\u2019s rarely enough to make a significant dent.\u00a0 Group therapy is often a lot less expensive than individual therapy.\u00a0 This is because the one therapist\u2019s time is now spread among several people rather than one.\u00a0 Group therapy can provide much (and sometimes even more) of the benefits for a fraction of the cost of individual therapy.\u00a0 This is a win-win, especially for anyone with a tight budget or limited health coverage, as members can often continue in therapy for a longer amount of time rather than cutting it short or rushing it due to finances. If you\u2019re struggling with bipolar disorder, consider group therapy.\u00a0 You can look online or contact several therapists in the area to see if they know of anyone who is starting one in the near future or conducts them regularly.\u00a0 Depending on various factors, including the therapist\u2019s discretion, you may be able to join an existing group.\u00a0 Even if there isn\u2019t a group specific to bipolar disorder, it might be worthwhile to consider a more general group (in which participants have different diagnoses or issues).\u00a0 Many of the dynamics and benefits will still apply.\u00a0 Just be sure to give it a little time once you start.\u00a0 It can feel a little uncomfortable at first, but the benefits can be significant.