- Interpersonal therapy is a short-term approach that teaches you the skills needed to build productive habits.
- You might learn new ways to soothe yourself, express emotions, or pause triggering conversations.
- IPT can help improve relationships and treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and more.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is based on the idea that your mood and mental health symptoms are related to the challenges you face in daily life.
Researchers Gerald L. Klerman and Myrna M. Weissman created the IPT in 1969 as a short-term treatment for depression.
IPT can also help you cope with difficult situations and circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or conflicts in your relationships.
Here’s what you need to know about how this type of therapy works and the potential benefits you can expect from it.
How it works
IPT is a short-term treatment that typically consists of 12 to 16 sessions, Roach says.
Although primarily used in one-to-one sessions, IPT can also work in a group or couple.
There are two main types of core interpersonal therapy, says Roach:
- Dynamic interpersonal therapywhich emphasizes understanding your own thoughts and emotions and those of others.
- Metacognitive interpersonal therapywhich emphasizes learning to express your emotions rather than avoiding or suppressing them.
Both types of IPT have three defined stages, says Heather Kentlicensed psychotherapist in private practice:
1. Opening sessions (1-3)
At the start of treatment, the therapist will ask you many questions about your symptoms and relationship history to determine which of the four “problem areas” your sessions will focus on.
These areas include:
- Pain: Unresolved or overly distressing feelings related to the loss of a loved one
- Role conflict: Conflicting expectations in one or more of your relationships
- Role transition: Difficulty adjusting to big life changes like marriage, divorce, retirement, or parenthood
- Interpersonal deficits: General challenges in forming and maintaining quality relationships
2. Intermediate sessions (4-14)
During most of the therapy process, your therapist will guide you in identifying habits and behaviors that no longer seem to meet your needs.
Once you become aware of these useless patterns, you can learn alternative tools to have more productive interactions in your daily life, according to Dr Taish MalonePhD, a licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health.
For example, if you tend to let your anger take over in triggering conversations, you might learn to:
- Identify the first physical signs of rising anger.
- Communicate that you need to step away from the conversation to calm down.
3. The final sessions (15 – 16)
These sessions focus on transitioning out of therapy. You will spend time reviewing your progress and dealing with any feelings of loss associated with the end of therapy.
It is natural to feel anxious or sad at the end of therapy. Your therapist can help you:
- Validate these emotions
- Help you identify your social support network
- Review the strategies and coping mechanisms you now have in your toolbox to deal with interpersonal barriers
IPT may include some of the following techniques:
- Image rescript: That implies reliving stressful or upsetting situations to understand your emotional reactions and gain confidence in facing similar scenarios in the future.
- Guided imagery: This exercise involves imagining a particular environment – usually relaxing – and describing it in detail. As you explore the images and develop the scene, the therapist can guide you to deeper emotional understanding about yourself and your interactions with others.
- mindfulness exercises: Body scans, breathwork and meditation can all help become more aware your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.
- Play a role: By acting out imaginary scenarios with people in your life in therapy, you can deal with unpleasant feelings in a safe environment, get real-time insight into your own behavior, and think about how you might react differently. For example, your therapist could play the role of a colleague you’re afraid to confront so you can practice the conflict resolution skills you’ve learned.
Benefits for Depression
A wealth of research materials the benefits of IPT for various types of depressionincluding:
- Major depressive disorder (major depression)
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
- Postpartum depression
“Depression often follows a disturbing change in one’s interpersonal environment, such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, or increased fighting with a significant other,” Kent says.
The main objective of the IPT involves resolving and healing from any disturbing life events while developing communication and social skills, according to Kent. This can lead to higher self-esteem and stronger relationships, which can, in turn, help reduce symptoms of depression.
A 2016 review found that IPT not only prevented the onset of major depression, but also reduced the risk of relapse. These positive effects were more likely with 10 or more sessions of IPT.
Benefits for other mental health problems
IPT can also help treat a wide range of other mental health conditions and symptoms, including:
IPT can help reduce interpersonal issues that trigger or worsen symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks and social withdrawal.
A balance sheet 2014 found that IPT reduced symptoms of anxiety and panic. IPT has also helped people with panic disorder better understand negative emotions and express them more openly and directly in social situations.
In the treatment of social anxiety disorder, IPT was more effective than psychodynamic psychotherapy but less effective than CBT.
borderline personality disorder
The main symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) include difficulty managing impulses, frequent mood swings, and challenges in interpersonal relationships – and IPT can help address all of these issues.
In a small study 2020, people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder who participated in weekly IPT sessions for 10 months experienced a decrease in disrupted interpersonal relationships and intense and rapid mood swings. They also reported improvements in impulse control and perceived overall quality of life. These effects were maintained through two years of follow-up assessments.
Interpersonal difficulties can contribute to eating disorders lowering self-esteem. IPT can help you deal with any underlying interpersonal challenges that can make eating disorders worse.
Many studies confirm its benefits:
- A balance sheet 2012 found that IPT is the most documented and supported alternative to CBT for the treatment of bulimia nervosa, although it may take longer to notice positive effects.
- Research from 2016 suggests that IPT may prove almost as effective in treating eating disorders as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- A 2018 report showed that IPT can provide results comparable to CBT in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
post-traumatic stress disorder
If you are living with PTSD, you might find it overwhelming and painful to revisit the traumatic experience. But the IPT does not dwell on the traumas of the past. Instead, it aims to help you recognize and deal with emotional responses when they’re triggered in the moment so they don’t harm your relationships.
A balance sheet 2014 found that when people with PTSD participated in interpersonal therapy, they had fewer symptoms of depression, as well as improved social functioning and general well-being.
IPT can help you identify links between your daily interactions and routines and unwanted mood swings, so it can help improve the extreme mood swings that characterize bipolar disorder.
In fact, one of the main treatments for bipolar disorder stems from IPT. Researchers believe that your circadian rhythms — your body’s natural internal clock — can impact your mood. klerman created interpersonal social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), integrating this theory within the framework of the IPT.
In other words, using IPT techniques while creating a regular daily routine can help balance your mood and improve your social life.
In a small study 2020people with bipolar disorder who participated in 12 weekly 90-minute sessions of IPSRT reported improvement in symptoms of mania, anxiety, and depression.
When IPT May Not Help
IPT may not be the most effective treatment for conditions marked by psychosis, such as psychotic depression or schizophrenia.
Additionally, the IPT focuses on issues in your current life. So, since you won’t be spending time exploring events from your childhood, it may not help you deal with past traumas, such as childhood abuse.
How to try it
For IPT to work, Roach says you need to have both the motivation to make changes and the willingness to examine your role in any interpersonal issues you encounter.
To find a therapist who offers IPT, Kent recommends using the online directories at psychology today Where good therapywhich allow you to search for mental health professionals in your area and use filters to find therapists trained in this approach.
Your insurance will usually cover interpersonal therapy, as long as you select an in-network therapist.
IPT is a short-term treatment that focuses on addressing issues and challenges in your current daily life, especially those that involve your relationships with others.
Most research on IPT has focused on its benefits for depression, but this approach may also prove effective for treating other conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, and depression. personality disorders.
Additionally, by helping you learn to identify, manage, and express your emotions in a non-destructive way, IPT can improve all types of relationships.