Which mental health expert do I need for bipolar disorder?

Muffy Walker
Mental Health Nursing
I recommend seeing a psychiatrist who is not only licensed as a medical doctor, but who has certification in psychiatry. If you are an adult, look for someone who treats a lot of patients with bipolar. You can ask the doctor if he or she sees many with that diagnosis. Ask what continuing education they have done. If you are seeking treatment for a child, the above applies, but you'll want someone who completed a Child & Adolescent residency and certification.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you think you have bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. No, sooner than that!!! He may refer you to a psychiatrist. Don’t be spooked. A psychiatrist is just a doctor who specializes in evaluating and treating mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder. There’s no shame in talking to a psychiatrist about your symptoms. It is just like talking about your knee or back problems with an orthopedist.
People need and benefit from treatment that focuses on both medication management and some process that helps them learn about the symptoms of the illness. Psychiatrists normally prescribe psychiatric medications and psychologists and other mental health professionals typically provide psychotherapy. When it comes to psychotherapy, the familiarity with the illness and its cause is usually more important than the particular mental health professional. What you want is a mental health professional that specializes in bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists usually focus on the use of medications and mood stabilizers as the treatment of choice for bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers are medications that have been shown to prevent highs and lows. Most are usually effective against manias or hypomanias. When it comes to the treatment of the depressed phase of bipolar disorder, there are fewer medications to choose from. As a rule, the traditional antidepressants are not viewed as making depression go away and stay away. Psychotherapy should focus on learning about the symptoms of the illness, and then learning how to manage symptoms of the illness, specifically targeting the symptoms that mood stabilizers do not make go away.
Many people with bipolar first see their family doctor or other primary care physician. This doctor may give a referral to a psychiatrist, a physician especially trained to treat mental health conditions. People with bipolar also may see a psychologist or another mental health professional for counseling or psychotherapy ("talk therapy"). 
My personal experience is that one needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist.

Identifying a solution for finding or identifying an expert for a bipolar disorder is outside my professional fitness expertise as a trainer. However, I will be happy to share my personal experience based on my son and family living with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Seeking a medical professional for a specific disorder is easy and challenging. Why? There are many bipolar disorder experts, but it is discovering the right match to fit the individual and family.

My personal suggestion in seeking out a bipolar disorder expert is three fold. First, recommend consulting the individual's primary care doctor regarding the disorder, because the primary care doctor should be able to provide a list of recommended experts comparable to the individual's need(s). Secondly, I recommend calling the health insurance company, because the health insurance company can provide a list of medical professionals within your insurance coverage and/or based on the need(s). Lastly, don't be afraid to physically visit a notable mental health facility inquiring about their services, educational materials, etc.

Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health
It’s an extremely important topic, but the basics can be simple. 
1. Work with someone who has actual experience with bipolar disorder. It’s a very difficult illness to treat and many traditional treatments from medications to therapy can be used incorrectly if the bipolar disorder is not taken into account.
2. Explore your options:  Psychiatrists are great and very needed, but there are other options such as mental health nurse practitioners. PsyD’s and naturopaths with a mental health background.
3. Find a practitioner who is always open to medications:  I had to manage this illness without help from medications for ten years. I went through 22 meds at that time. When I finally found a medication that worked (number 23!) my life was much, much easier. I suggest that all the people you work with are open to medications. This is not depression which can often be treated through natural means and therapy. It’s bipolar disorder and very, very complicated to manage without medications.
4. Find a therapist who has an in depth understanding of bipolar disorder symptoms. Believe it or not, many research studies have shown that traditional talk therapy is not very successful when a person has bipolar. Therapy often deals with feelings and how a person can change in order to have a better life, etc. If you see a therapist who doesn’t understand bipolar mood swings, it’s easy to focus on your ‘personal problems’ instead of managing the depression that creates the problems. If you focus on your ‘wildness’ instead of the mania that causes it, the therapy can make both parties pretty unhappy.
But when you get a therapist with an understanding of bipolar disorder, it can change your life. I’ve been with my therapist Robin for over six years. She knows that my excessive crying is probably depression and that cancelling an appointment because things are GREAT!! may be mania, etc.
I suggest seeing a therapist with bipolar disorder experience for all of those affected by bipolar disorder-  including families (this means siblings too) and partners!
Recap: Choose the type of mental health practitioner you want and then ask them directly about their bipolar disorder experience. It will save you a lot of trouble and stress and insure that your relationships with your mental health practitioners are successful.

It's important to understand that the symptoms of bipolar disorder are very similar to other conditions, syndromes and personality expressions. Bipolar Disorder has been misdiagnosed and over-diagnosed frequently in the past. True Bipolar Disorder is a condition that typically requires medication to fully manage the manic and depressive episodes; therefore, I'd recommend starting with a psychiatrist for a diagnostic evaluation, prescription and medication management. You may need a referral from your Primary Care Physician. After you are medically stable, you can work with a psychologist or therapist to learn how to live with your disorder and manage your illness. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.