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Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist | PSY 22022

Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D.

Interpersonal Therapy
Interpersonal Therapy 101: Everything You Need to Know About Interpersonal Therapy

Do you struggle with depression related to grief, job loss, or life changes? Do you find it difficult to openly communicate with significant people in your life? You are not alone.

Many people experience these feelings and life obstacles every day. The good news is that effective treatment can improve your life. Interpersonal Therapy helps treat emotional and mental disorders resulting from ineffective communication patterns.

What is Interpersonal Therapy?

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) describes a short-term, highly structured and supportive form of psychotherapy. It explores unhealthy emotional responses to interactions with others.

IPT has been scientifically validated as an effective treatment for mood disorders. This clinical endorsement increased the use of IPT in clinical practice worldwide.

History of Interpersonal Psychotherapy

IPT was first developed in the 1970’s at Yale University. Gerald Klerman, Myrna Weissman, and Eugene Paykel studied the use of medication alone and as part of a psychotherapy treatment plan for depression.

The primary treatment for depression at that time involved only taking antidepressants. When a person stops taking the medication, many became depressed again. IPT combines medication with therapy to help teach more effective strategies.

There was a desire to develop standardized and specific guidelines for treating depression. It was important for these guidelines to be based on research that demonstrated consistent outcomes.

Klerman, Weissman, and Paykel’s work provided this research-based evidence. This helped IPT gain support in the therapeutic community.

Today, there are more than 250 scientific studies support the effectiveness of IPT.

What Does Interpersonal Psychotherapy Involve?

IPT focuses on interpersonal problems utilizing a limited number of therapy sessions. IPT may be completed in 6 to 20 sessions. You may also have follow-up visits to help with maintenance as needed.

This approach to therapy involves methods addressing two theories integral to IPT. These include targets of IPT and tactics of IPT.

Other therapeutic approaches may share elements of each theory. The combination of these two theories into the treatment plan is unique to IPT.

IPT often has specific, intentional stages of the therapeutic process.

Interpersonal Inventory

The interpersonal inventory, allows the therapist to learn about people close to the client. They examine the quality of these relationships. This helps to clarify social support, romantic attachments, communication styles, and relationship problems.

Many times, interpersonal communication and relationship issues may result in depression. This helps to define the targets to focus on.

Interpersonal Problem Areas

Next, the therapist chooses one of four interpersonal problem areas to address. These problem areas include:

Grief or complicated bereavement. This addresses the onset or extended depressive episodes associated with the death of a significant person in someone’s life.

Role dispute. The therapists helps identify targets that triggered a depressive episode.

The event may result from a problematic interpersonal relationship. Inconsistent role expectations between two people often initiates this problem.

Role transition. Treatment focuses on an individual’s difficulty coping with changes in their life. This may include new:

  • jobs
  • relationship status
  • health issues
  • living conditions
  • socioeconomic status

Scientists have long understood that stress increases when life changes accumulate.

Interpersonal deficits. In this situation, treatment addresses situations with no significant interpersonal event. The person describes a long history of problematic interpersonal relationships.

Without a specific target event, these cases may not respond to IPT as well as those in other categories.

Treatment Method

IPT involves three phases: beginning, middle, and end.

The therapist develops specific tactics to address the identified targets. The middle phase focuses on resolving the selected interpersonal problem. The final phase serves to end or say “goodbye” to the therapeutic relationship.

Communication Analysis

Communication Analysis is the first phase of treatment and may last about 3 sessions. This phase works on developing communication skills and improving interpersonal functioning.

The therapist begins by asking for a detailed account of an exchange between the client and a specific person. They are asked to include details such as the setting, tone, content, and nonverbal communication. The therapist asks the person to describe their emotional experience during the interaction.

The client looks at what they meant to communicate compared to what was actually communicated. Coaching and role playing can then help the person improve their communication skills.

Exploration of Options and Decision Analysis

The therapist helps the patient determine what they want from specific situations.

Many people with depression fail to meet their own needs and desires. They often lack energy, motivation, or interest. They feel selfish when engaging in personal activities.

The therapist describes an interpersonal problem. The client must make a list of options to solve the problem.

This is often difficult for depressed individuals. Thus, the therapist must start and guide the individual in creating a list of solutions.

Treatment tactics include talking about resources to help in planning and accomplishing changes. Sometimes the client’s desires are not realistic. In this situation, the therapist helps the patient mourn the loss of a certain outcome.


This is the final phase of therapy and is usually accomplished in the last 2 to 3 treatment sessions. The IPT therapist frames this as a graduation process.

They emphasize the patient’s accomplishments. The therapist helps celebrate meaningful gains, improved feelings, and readiness to move on in life.

Termination of therapy is a role transition. If not carefully addressed, this could become a problem for the person. The goal is to leave with a new set of tools and a game plan for meeting life’s obstacles.

What Conditions Benefit from Interpersonal Therapy?

IPT provides positive outcomes for many emotional and mental disorders including:

  • Depression in adolescents
  • Depression in individuals with HIV infections
  • Depression associated with unresolved grief
  • Difficulty with role conflicts
  • Problems with interpersonal communication
  • Addictions and substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

IPT works toward improving communications skills resulting in healthy outcomes.

Would You Like to Learn More About Mental Health and Treatment Programs?

Our site provides a wealth of information about emotional and mental disorders. We also have information about different therapy approaches such as interpersonal therapy.

Explore our website today to watch videos that teach about improving mental health.

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