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An image of people in an interpersonal therapy session

Interpersonal therapy (IPT therapy or IPT) is a time-limited and evidence-based intervention for the treatment of mood disorders like depression.

The primary goals of IPT are to strengthen the quality of interpersonal relationships and to improve social functioning, resultantly reducing distress. This form of psychotherapy provides strategies for resolving problems in four key areas, including conflicts in relationships.

Interpersonal therapy can be effective both for preventing the onset of new depressive disorders and for mitigating the risk of relapse.

What is Interpersonal Therapy?

As a short-term and time-limited form of psychotherapy, IPT typically unfolds over 12 to 16 sessions.

Interpersonal therapy was developed in the 1970s to treat depression and there is robust research supporting its effectiveness. With modifications, IPT can also be used to treat various other mental health issues, including anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.

When Gerald Klerman and Myrna Weissman developed IPT, most mental health professionals viewed depression as a person-based condition. According to the contemporary consensus, the environment was not a contributory factor to depression. IPT, by contrast, recognizes the significant impact relationships can have on mental health.

Studies show that interpersonal therapy can be effective for treating depressive disorders and other mental health conditions of varying types and severity.

As the name implies, interpersonal therapy focuses mainly on your interpersonal relationships and your social interactions. By exploring these areas, you can examine how your relationships influence your mental health and to assess how much support you have from your social network.

Beyond this, IPT can also help with the management of unresolved grief when distress is triggered by the loss of a loved one.

Interpersonal therapy can also help if you are dealing with challenging life transitions – divorce, retirement, or relocating, for instance.

Additionally, IPT is sometimes recommended to help you resolve interpersonal disputes stemming from conflicting expectations between family members, friends, or co-workers.

Group IPT sessions are also time-limited. These semi-structured sessions focus sharply on interpersonal dynamics, allowing you to practice the skills you learn in individual therapy sessions in a controlled and secure environment.

An interpersonal therapy definition is as follows:

  • The therapy is structured and time-limited over 12 to 16 weeks
  • IPT focuses on communication and interpersonal relationships
  • Rather than probing the past, IPT examines present relationships
  • The core goal is to improve social support and interpersonal functioning

Interpersonal Therapy Techniques

IPT approaches the treatment of depression by improving your most meaningful relationships. To achieve this, the therapist will begin by conducting a comprehensive interpersonal inventory. This allows you to fully outline your most significant past and present relationships.

An interpersonal inventory allows your therapist to group your significant relationships according to the following core areas:

  1. Interpersonal deficits: If you find it tough to form and maintain worthwhile relationships, interpersonal therapy can help you identify any interpersonal deficits, such as inadequacy or self-limiting beliefs hampering your ability to communicate effectively.
  2. Grief: It is normal to undergo stages of grief following the death of a loved one. Sometimes, though, a major loss may lead to unresolved grief. Unresolved grief can prompt the appearance of depression-like symptoms such as fatigue and insomnia.
  3. Role transition: Life involves a series of changes. Roles also change through marriage, divorce, becoming a parent, and retiring. When these role transitions become emotionally overwhelming, this can lead to a depressed mood.
  4. Role dispute: If you and loved ones have different expectations when it comes to your relationship, this disconnect can also trigger feelings of depression.

You will create this interpersonal inventory during the opening three sessions of IPT.

During sessions 4 to 14, you work on improving the target problem areas with the support of your therapist. You work together to develop solutions, then you try to implement those solutions between sessions and in group sessions.

As you move into the final two sessions, you’ll confront any feeling of loss associated with completing therapy. You will also review all the issues included in your interpersonal inventory and assess the progress you have made.

By employing these techniques, your therapist attempts to identify areas in your life that could contribute to depression. They will then impart the skills you need to more confidently counter difficult emotions.

Other techniques might include:

  • Streamlining interactions with loved ones
  • Engaging with social activities you previously found painful or stressful
  • Raising challenging topics that you have previously refrained from discussing with loved ones
  • Developing more positive coping techniques

The sustained use of these techniques can help to reduce the symptoms of depression over time.

An image of a couple doing interpersonal therapy

What is the Focus of Interpersonal Therapy

Originally conceived as a short-term treatment for major depressive disorder, IPT has been demonstrated as an effective treatment for these conditions:

IPT primarily focuses on the following areas:

  • Conflict in relationships causing tension and distress
  • Life transitions
  • Loss and grief
  • Forming and managing relationships

As you learn to implement strategies to deal with problems in your interpersonal relationships, you may find that symptoms improve.

Interpersonal therapy, unlike some forms of psychotherapy, does not delve into inner conflicts stemming from past experiences or past relationships. Instead, IPT shines a light on potentially problematic current relationships in terms of your mental health.

IPT takes a less directive approach than CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), dwelling less on personality traits and more on designated target areas. Symptoms are viewed as a response to challenges within your everyday interpersonal relationships.

Find Interpersonal Therapy Today

Initially developed as a research intervention, IPT is still a young psychotherapy. Many current practitioners started as researchers in the field.

Favorable research outcomes means that IPT is now included in clinical treatment guidelines as a proven intervention. Despite a growing interest among clinicians, the standards for training are still being defined. ISIPT (the International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy) oversees training issues and the development of credentialing processes.
To shortcut the process, reach out to our team at Los Angeles Therapy Network today and we’ll connect you with the therapist you need to help you work through mental health issues that are holding you back.

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