What is Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)?
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is an attachment-based and problem-focused treatment for depression and relationship problems. In this approach, the focus of therapy is on current relationships and interpersonal events that contribute to the onset and/or maintenance of depression or other symptoms of psychological distress. IPT focuses on a key issue in one of three problem areas: 1) recent life changes or transitions (e.g., divorce, marriage, moving, job loss), 2) conflicts with others (e.g., in intimate partnerships or at work), or 3) grief related to the loss of a significant other.
IPT helps you reduce distress through understanding and improving your relationships at work, home, and in your social life, adjusting to life changes, and building relationship skills.
How does IPT work?
Interpersonal therapy is based on the understanding that: 1) we live in a social world, 2) relationships are fundamental to our well-being, and 3) depression typically occurs in the context of relationship problems or chronic relationship stress.
We all face problems in our relationships (whether intimate, social, family, and/or work-related) and adapting to new social roles or interpersonal events at some point in our lives (e.g., beginning university, moving, job change or loss, having a baby). When we experience significant stress in these areas, do not get our basic emotional needs met, and/or lack sufficient social support during times of conflict, transition, or loss, we are more vulnerable to depression and other symptoms of distress.
IPT aims to help you feel better by working collaboratively with you to resolve the social and relationship problems that are contributing to symptoms of depression and general distress. There is a strong emphasis on helping you develop awareness and make changes in your interpersonal behaviours (that is, how you relate to and communicate with others) in order to resolve current problems.
What happens in IPT?
In therapy, you will be helped to explore, identify, and process your thoughts and feelings related to the specific relationship problem(s) you are having and to communicate your needs more effectively. Often, you will be asked to provide detailed information about specific interactions with others which we will examine together in order to better understand your role in a particular dispute. Therapy will help create awareness about 1) your expectations in relationships, 2) your feelings and needs, 3) how and what you communicate and whether it reflects your intentions and 4) any problematic behaviours that interfere with meeting your relationship goals or that are contributing to an ongoing relationship conflict.
Some common tasks in therapy include reevaluating your expectations, negotiating and resolving conflicts, developing greater acceptance of yourself or others, and experimenting with alternative ways of communicating and new relationship behaviours, such as being assertive or taking appropriate social risks. If you are dealing with grief or a transition, you will be helped to mourn what has been lost (e.g., a significant other, old life role), adapt to new circumstances, and to develop or make better use of social supports.
Is IPT effective?
Interpersonal Therapy is a brief (12-20 sessions) empirically supported treatment for depression that focuses on current events and relationships, though is informed by an understanding of individuals’ past and current pattern of relating. Research has demonstrated that IPT is equally as effective in the short term treatment of depression as anti-depressant medication or other treatment approaches (e.g., CBT).