Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a short-term psychotherapy which is primarily based upon interpersonal attachments. The aim of IPT is to alleviate a patient’s suffering and to improve their functioning through interpersonal relationships. IPT was originally developed within the research context as a treatment for major depression in 1984. Since this time there is a growing body of clinical and empirical evidence for use with a wide range of mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder, interpersonal problems, and emotional distress.
IPT is characterised by four key elements:
- IPT specifically focusses on interpersonal relationships and social support as a part of the intervention.
- IPT is based on Biopsychosocial/ cultural/ spiritual models of psychological functioning.
- IPT is a short-term psychological intervention during an acute phase of treatment.
- IPT interventions typically do no address the therapist-patient relationship.
Clarification: Throughout IPT, the client and therapist collaboratively explore – and clarify – a particular aspect of the client’s interpersonal experience. This may provide an opportunity for the client to gain the following therapeutic benefits:
- Validate the client’s experiences.
- Exploration and reflection upon experiences.
- Clear communication of experiences.
- Consolidates the therapeutic alliance between client and their therapist.
Communication analysis is a formal technique to explore whether a client’s difficulties are being caused by poor communication. Conducting a communication analysis will assist the therapist and client in identifying communication patterns, and help the client to communicate more effectively.
Problem Solving is a fundamental aspect of IPT. Primarily problem solving is designed to assist a client to bring about change in their interpersonal relationships. This is often used as a way to assist a client in developing new social supports. Problem solving has five main components:
- Detailed examination of the problem
- Brainstorm potential solutions
- Selecting a course of action
- Monitor and refine possible solutions
Use of Affect: The examination of affect states and drawing a client’s attention to their affect and assisting them in better understanding their emotional state and to more effectively communicate this to their supports, is a crucial part of IPT. There are three main goals in doing so:
- To assist the client in recognising complex emotions.
- Help clients describe their affect and emotional state.
- Assist clients in communicating their affect and emotions more effectively.
Role Playing is used as a technique whereby the client and the therapist create “in vitro” interactions during therapy to practice and reinforce behaviour change outside of therapy. The goals of role play within IPT are:
- To gather more information about a client’s communication style
- Assist the client in developing insight into their behaviour
- Assist the client in understanding social interactions
- Allow the therapist to model new modes of interpersonal behaviour and communication
- Practice new interpersonal communication skills.
In contrast to some other therapies, IPT progresses through therapeutic phases of treatment. Following the Acute treatment phase, the client then enters the maintenance phase. Empirical evidence has found support for this is effectively preventing relapse prevention. Maintenance or follow-up treatment is continued to be provided on an “as needed” basis.
Authored by: Vision Psychology and Ainsley Salsbury
Stuart, S., Robertson, M. D., & ebrary, I. (2012). Interpersonal psychotherapy: A clinician’s guide (2nd ed.). London: Hodder Arnold.