Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a method of treating depression. IPT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on you and your relationships with other people. It’s based on the idea that personal relationships are at the center of psychological problems.
Depression isn’t always caused by an event or a relationship. However, depression affects relationships and can create problems with interpersonal connections. The goals of IPT are to help you communicate better with others and address problems that contribute to your depression.
Several studies found that IPT may be as effective as antidepressant medication for treating depression. Psychiatrists will sometimes use IPT together with medication.
Treatment usually begins with your therapist conducting an interview. Based on the problems you describe, they can identify goals and create a treatment outline. You and your therapist will focus on the key issues you’re looking to resolve. A typical program involves up to 20 weekly hour-long therapy sessions.
IPT is not about finding an unconscious origin of your current feelings and behavior. In this way, it is unlike other forms of psychotherapy. IPT instead focuses on the current reality of your depression. It looks at how more immediate difficulties are contributing to symptoms. Depression symptoms can complicate personal relationships. This often causes people with depression to turn inward or act out.
Feelings of depression often follow a major change in your life. These changes fall into one of four categories:
- complicated bereavement — the death of a loved one or unresolved grief
- role transition — the beginning or ending of a relationship or marriage or diagnosis of a disease
- role dispute — a struggle in a relationship
- interpersonal deficit — the absence of a major life event
Your therapist will attempt to identify events in your life that lead to your depression. They will try to equip you with the skills you need to direct difficult emotions in positive ways.
You may be encouraged to take part in social activities that you found stressful or painful in the past. This can be a way of practicing new coping techniques.
IPT is not just for depression. It may also treat:
- bipolar disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- depression as a result of disease, such as HIV
- depression as a result of caregiving
- eating disorders
- marital disputes
- panic disorder
- protracted bereavement
- substance abuse
“In its pure state, interpersonal psychotherapy is a very well-studied type of therapy,” says Daniel L. Buccino. Buccino is a licensed certified social worker and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It generally focuses on the current relational context in which problems such as depression emerge. And it’s generally a bit more time limited and goal oriented in trying to bring about different relational patterns and solutions.”
IPT is just one form of psychotherapy. Other types include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), integrative or holistic therapy, and psychoanalysis. The effectiveness of IPT depends upon you and the severity of your condition.
Talk with your doctor or your therapist about the different forms of psychotherapy that are available. Working with your doctor and therapist will help you build a plan that suits your specific needs.