Unrealistic Goals Tied to Bipolar Disorder

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People who set unrealistic goals may be in danger of more than disappointment. According to a new UC Berkeley psychological study, those who are bipolar may also be at risk of triggering manic episodes.

UC Berkeley psychology professor Sheri Johnson and Daniel Fulford, a graduate student at the University of Miami, co-authored a study detailing the link between goal dysregulation and bipolar disorder, to be published in the March issue of the psychiatric journal Behavior Therapy.

Bipolar individuals are not only more likely to set unrealistic goals, they can also be severely affected emotionally when their goals are not met.

"We find that they have problems with regulating goals, setting ambitions too high and becoming overconfident," Johnson said.

After establishing these triggers, the study outlines a therapeutic treatment to combat them, which researchers named the GOALS program.

Johnson, who conducted research on bipolar disorder for 13 years at the University of Miami, worked with Fulford to develop the educational program, which seeks to help people recognize and control early symptoms of a manic episode.

In Miami, the pair tried out the program on 23 volunteers with bipolar disorder, helping them design reasonable plans to achieve their goals.

"We teach them skills for when they're becoming a little too confident or too goal-oriented and ways to calm their moods," Johnson said.

This semester, Johnson came to UC Berkeley to expand her research by setting up treatment services for students and Berkeley residents through the campus's psychology department.

The services will be available starting fall 2009.

Colleagues said the research will lend insight not only into the disease, but also into possible treatment.

"It's groundbreaking research. Nobody has been able to make such a dent in mania," said Ann Kring, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "It'll give us a better handle on the key problems in mania and hopefully effectively treat them."

Still, Johnson and Fulford said they need to perform more trials before establishing a definite treatment.

"So far it's very preliminary findings," Fulford said.

Johnson said she hoped to greatly increase the number of volunteers receiving treatment at UC Berkeley.

"We're hoping to see at least 20 people with bipolar disorder at a time," she said. "We'll help people understand more about the illness, work with family members and offer different kinds of therapy."

A colleague Johnson is currently working with also studies bipolar disorder, focusing on how hours of sleep affect the disease.

"She'll work on the sleep piece, and we'll work on the goal piece-we'll trade ideas every day," Johnson said. "We want to help those with bipolar disorder deal with their episodes and to prevent those episodes from happening."


Contact Elizabeth Chang at [email protected]

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