Depression isn’t always caused by an event or a relationship.
However, depression affects relationships and can create problems with interpersonal connections. In turn, problems with interpersonal connections can contribute to depression.
The goals of interpersonal therapy (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 difficulties in your personal relationships and create a treatment outline consistent with your goals.
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 similar to other modern psychotherapies (e.g., CBT) in that it’s not about finding an unconscious origin of your current feelings and behavior. In this way, it’s unlike traditional forms of psychotherapy like psychoanalysis.
IPT instead focuses on how more immediate difficulties in interacting with others are contributing to symptoms.
Depression symptoms can complicate personal relationships. This often causes people with depression to turn inward or to express frustration or irritation toward others.
Feelings of depression can occur for multiple reasons and can often follow a major change in your life, but they don’t necessarily have to follow them. Such changes or “adjustments” fall into one of four categories:
- adjustment difficulties, often associated with life changes like moves, job loss, etc.
- 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’ll try to equip you with the skills you need to direct difficult emotions in positive ways.
For instance, they may give you strategies to practice on how to more effectively interact with family members or relationship partners.
These methods can be aimed at getting your emotional needs met with the least resistance possible or even by also satisfying the others’ emotional needs.
You may be encouraged to take part in social activities that you found stressful or painful in the past.
You may also be encouraged to bring up topics with others that may have been difficult in the past or that you may have wanted to avoid discussing with them.
This can be difficult at first, but it can be an effective way of practicing new coping techniques so that they become a habit over time.
Continued use of those techniques has been shown to lead to reduction of depression over time.
IPT is not just for depression. It may also help treat:
- bipolar disorder (when used along with medication)
- 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
“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
The effectiveness of IPT depends upon what you’ve experienced and the severity of the difficulties you’ve had.
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 treatment plan that suits your specific needs.
Online therapy options
Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.