Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy is a focused, time-limited, and results-oriented therapy approach. Interpersonal therapy is grounded in the observation that our interactions with people around us can have a major impact on mood and behavior. By identifying problems in relationships and social roles, then working to improve them, individuals can learn how to improve create positive interpersonal relationships, minimize conflict, and thrive in their social roles. Interpersonal therapy has primarily been proven effective for depression, but it is sometimes used for dysthymia, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders.

Four Simple Problems, Numerous Complications

Interpersonal therapy focuses on four basic problems that can underlie many complicated disorders, especially depression:

  • Complicated grief
  • Role disputes
  • Role transitions
  • Lack of interpersonal connectedness

In complicated grief, the normal period of low mood following a loss incorporates a number of symptoms in addition to or instead of healthy mourning.

Role disputes arise in relationships where participating individuals have disputes over expected behaviors in that relationship. Most commonly, intimate partners disagree about what each partner is expected to bring to the relationship.

Role transitions can cause depression because individuals may not know how to cope with the change. Even normally happy events, such as the birth of a child or a promotion at work, can cause distress for individuals who cannot effectively cope with the changes brought on by these shifts in structure and functioning.

A lack of interpersonal connectedness can contribute to low mood. The cause of reduced interpersonal connectedness may be tied to a voluntary withdrawal from relationships after a significant life event, or it may be due to a lack of skills to help form and maintain quality interpersonal relationships.

Your Recovery Story

Like a story, interpersonal therapy consists of a beginning, middle, and end, or what we might call Act I, Act II and Act III. In Act I, an individual and their therapist introduce yourselves and work together to identify the cause of your depression.

In Act II, an individual and their therapist work together to resolve the problem using specific strategies that have been proven to be effective in resolving the issues you face. A major component is learning to identify, value, and express emotions. If you know what you are feeling and why, you can better resolve the primary issue rather than engage in unproductive and often destructive conflict with others. It’s also important to realize when the true source of emotion is related to other issues that may seem distant from the present conflicts—the true source may even be previous relationships and can only be dealt with in that context.

In Act III, an individual and their therapist review the progress that has been made and the lessons that have been learned. The individual learns that they have the tools to face and overcome future issues.