I have a 14 year old son that was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 3 years ago. We are all very happy (he, me, familyl, doctors) with the results from Risperdal. It is common for people with bipolar to not take their meds because they like the mania feelings. In my son's case mania was his norm and he likes not having to deal with the mania symptoms.
I have completed the course work for a specialist degree in counseling (between a Master's and a Doctorate) while working on my doctorate in health science. I've taken all the courses in psychopathology, pharmacology, and counseling at the graduate level at a top rated university. There are many different theories about mental illness but we are becoming more aware of the biological and genetic link. There are some disorders that respond better to medications, some to counseling, and some to both.
There is agreement that medications are the way to go for bipolar disorder. I feel that it would be abuse for me to deny the medicaion for my son that works so well with no side effects. I too am cautious about medications and stopped Ritalin and Adderal when they thought he had ADHD (an inaccurate diagnosis). Psychotherapy has little to offer basically well-adjusted people with bipolar. The main goal of therapy is to make the person comply with medication, understand bipolar disorder, and basic 'getting along with others' skills. We have been lucky to have had two great psychiatrists (in the 2 cities we have lived in) that picked the right meds, didn't advise therapy, and only require visits every 3-6 months.
Bipolar disorder is a terrible diagnosis and people with bipolar can have many life problems: substance abuse, breaking the law, divorce, difficulty holding a job, spousal and child abuse, and on and on. For my son, homeschooling is a big priority. He is afraid that the kids would be so mean to him (he has learning difficulties) that he would end up hitting someone and end up in jail. He is 14 and 6'2" so he knows he can really hurt someone.
His father has bipolar and tried to kill me and my other two sons while I was pregnant (leading to problems with the pregnancy and a premature birth). I have been a single, disabled mother since (my injuries from the incident involve physical and medical problems). I have been able to attend graduate school one or two courses at a time. I am too sick to attend this semester. I can't get excited about homeschooling or spending 24 hours a day with my son (I've been doing it alone for 14 years). However, I will do it because it is what is best for him. His older two brothers (19 and 22) do help some but are busy with college and their own lives. He has never met his father.
Bipolar disorder affects everyone in the family. Counseling might be more appropriate for family members than the person with bipolar disorder. Beware that counselors, social workers, and psychologists recieve a very general training and may know little about or have little experience with bipolar disorder. I would avoid practioners that have a behavioral or cognitive/behavioral approach. If you can find someone that practices reality therapy or systems therapy (not family systems) that would be best. Reality therapy is based on the notion that life is tough and learning how to cope. Systems therapy believes that there is no one theory of behavior that can explain all behavior and that life is complecated. A behavioral therapist would say a child misbehaves to get attention, a reality therapist would say children misbehave (that's life) and help you find ways to deal with misbehvior, a systems therapist would say that there are many different causes for a child's misbehavior and many possible responses.
Wow, this is getting long. I've tried to give you some ideas that are different from what you might find while beginning to search for info. To better understand different theories there is a book on spanking that does a good job of explaining. I think it is called The Case Against Spanking. In considering medication, think about the fact that we know there are chemical problems in the brains of people with bipolar disorders and that medications can make their lives much better. This is not medicating to enhance mood. It used to be thought epilepsy was a mental illness. You probably would give epilepsy medication if it would stop your child from having daily seizures. Some day, and it may be soon, bipolar disorder may be classified as a medical disorder rather than a mental disorder.
I wish you luck.