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Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
When you’re dealing with a depressive disorder, it can have a huge impact on many areas of your life — including your relationships. And when these interpersonal connections are affected, it can make you feel even more down. Translation: a vicious cycle begins. That’s where interpersonal therapy (IPT) comes in.
IPT is a relatively new modality of therapy, having only been developed in 1969, respectively. It was created with the understanding that our interpersonal relationships can protect against and help with mood issues. Originally, it was developed as a way of treating major depression.
The goal of IPT is to lower depressive symptoms and boost the way you function in social situations. This form of therapy is not intended to last for a long period of time. In fact, it typically only lasts for 12 to 16 weeks — with once-a-week sessions.
During IPT, you’ll work with a mental health professional to review your relationships and your capacity for intimacy. You’ll then work to improve your relationships or make peace with them.
Based on what is discussed, your mental health provider will come up with a plan to help you deal with any interpersonal issues, which should also help with your depression.
Often, this form of therapy will help someone address their needs and wants in relationships.
The goal of an IPT provider is to be an ally and show that they are supportive.
During treatment, a therapy provider will identify one of four areas that you may need help with. These areas are complicated bereavement (say you lost someone and are unsure how to process it), resolving conflict in role disputes, figuring out your new place within relationships or role transitions and resolving interpersonal deficits by lowering isolation.
Along with being used as a treatment for depression, IPT may be used as an adjunct treatment for dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and possibly even body dysmorphic disorder.
IPT utilizes four different mechanisms to treat major depression and address interpersonal deficits. It is up to the mental healthcare professional you see and what your interpersonal issues are whether they utilize all of these or just some of them.
The four mechanisms focused on in IPT are:
Enhancing social support: Feeling supported by those we are in relationships can happen in a variety of ways — from listening when we need to vent to loaning us money. If you don’t have social support, it can cause problems, so you will work on increasing it in IPT.
Processing emotions: In relationships, we communicate through our emotions. So learning how to correctly understand and process them is key.
Decreasing interpersonal stress: If you have issues in your connections, your mental health is going to suffer — so, a therapist will work with you on alleviating stress affecting your bonds.
Improving interpersonal skills: Often, those with psychiatric disorders (like a depressive disorder) are thought to suffer from relationship troubles because of their disorder. However, poor interpersonal bonds can also affect mental health. So, you’ll work to strengthen your skills to keep those connections strong.
No need to beat around the bush: IPT can be effective. Soon after IPT was developed, a study involving 150 female outpatients with depression compared IPT alone, amitriptyline alone, those two things combined and IPT with a placebo. It was discovered that IPT and amitriptyline were beneficial.
A comprehensive meta-analysis of ninety studies with a total of 11,434 patients found that IPT for depression had moderate to large benefits. It was also found that it can help eating disorders and anxiety disorders.
IPT (also called interpersonal psychotherapy) is a form of therapy that has been found to be effective for people with depression. Along with helping symptoms of depression, it is sometimes used to treat anxiety disorders (like social phobia or PTSD), eating disorders and even mood disorders (like bipolar disorder).
While other forms of psychotherapy (like cognitive behavioral therapy) tend to focus inwards, IPT centers around the belief that our relationships with others can affect our mood — and if those relationships aren’t solid, it can make us feel more down. So, the goal of IPT is to improve interpersonal skills so your relationships do not add to your symptoms of depression.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
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