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Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar Disorder is often misunderstood and frequently over diagnosed.

Previously known as Manic/Depression, this condition is caused by a poor chemical regulation of the brain and body. In recent years it ahs become the diagnosis de jour. Bipolar disorder has become the psychiatrist’s (as well as lay person’s) favorite label lately. Technically Bipolar disorder refers to a pattern of oscillation between highs (mania) and lows (depression) and energy levels.


Symptoms of bipolar disorder are described below. (chart taken from NIMH)

Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:
Mood Changes
A long period of feeling “high,” or an overly happy or outgoing mood
Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling “jumpy” or “wired.”

Behavioral Changes
Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
Being easily distracted
Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
Being restless
Sleeping little
Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
Behaving impulsively and taking part in a lot of pleasurable,high-risk behaviors, such as spending sprees, impulsive sex, and impulsive business investments.

Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:
Mood Changes:
A long period of feeling worried or empty
Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.

Behavioral Changes
Feeling tired or “slowed down”
Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
Being restless or irritable
Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.

In addition to mania and depression, bipolar disorder can cause a range of moods, as shown on the scale.
Unfortunately, for the general population, the term has been used to refer to anyone with extreme mood swings. This is not accurate to the diagnosis and creates great confusion and shame for those who do experience Bipolar shifts. Bipolar comes in two forms. The first form including extreme highs (often characterized by very little need for sleep) followed by a deep depression. The second form comes without these highs but rather a slightly elevated emotional state followed by drastic depression. While medication is the primary treatment of choice for both forms of Bipolar Disorder, therapy can assist the sufferer with needed changes that help to manage symptoms that eventually come while structuring life in such a way as to minimize each episode.

Bipolar disorder is found in several variations. Many individuals believe that only the chatty, high engery person is bipolar. In fact, it may be more subtle and harder to detect.

Bipolar I disorder

One or more manic episodes. Subcategories specify whether there has been more than one episode, and the type of the most recent episode. A depressive or hypomanic episode is not required for diagnosis, but it frequently occurs.

Bipolar II disorder

No manic episodes, but one or more hypomanic episodes and one or more major depressive episode. However, a bipolar II diagnosis is not a guarantee that they will not eventually suffer from such an episode in the future. Hypomanic episodes do not go to the full extremes of mania (i.e., do not usually cause severe social or occupational impairment, and are without psychosis), and this can make bipolar II more difficult to diagnose, since the hypomanic episodes may simply appear as a period of successful high productivity and is reported less frequently than a distressing, crippling depression.

How can counseling help?

Mental Health Therapy focusing on managing symptoms. It is not a substitute for medication. Some people may choose for their own reasons to avoid medication. Therapy will be even more important if that is the case. Research has identified proven strategies for managing and controling bipolar tendencies. Treatment approaches such as Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy help an individual learn to structure their life in such a way as to avoid the negative consequences of bipolar disorder.

Monitoring symptoms is essential to proper management. Therapy can help an individual learn to recognize, understand and challange negative patterns of behavior, thinking and belief systems. In the manic episode, individuals will very often have difficulty understanding their own behavior. The external lens of counseling can place a focus such problems, both inside and outside an individual. Once identified, it can be controlled.

What can I try on my own?

The primary treatment of Bipolar Disorder is the use of medication such as Seroquel, Trileptal or Lithium. These help to regulate the body and avoid the manic episode. Without the mania the depression is less likely to result. Bipolar disorder should be treated by a psychiatrist rather than your family doctor as some medications can make symptoms worse.

Avoid coffee and sugar as these increase brain activity and are known to elevate the risk of a manic episode. Stimulant drugs such as nicotine, Ritalin, cocaine and methamphetamines should be avoided at all cost. Drug addiction is very common among clients with Bipolar Disorder. Join a Bipolar/Depression support group as the experiences of others will be very encouraging to you.
Chart your moods. Recognizing where you are in your mood cycle is an essential resource to manage your behavior.
Check out the following resource to learn how to do this.
Learn more about bipolar. Psychiatry 24×7 is a quick and easy resource Bipolar Mood Chart Website
Blank Mood Chart (pdf) (Instructions to complete the chart can be found here)