Consumer guide to interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)

Many people struggle with their relationships. This is perfectly normal, given that forming and maintaining relationships is difficult. However, some people have it even more difficult than others and may need to consider undertaking interpersonal psychotherapy. IPT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses almost solely on an individual’s relationships and how they influence their life. These days, you can simply go to one of the top 10 online therapy sites and enroll in therapy sessions from the comfort of your home. But how does IPT work and how can it benefit you or your loved ones? These are some of the questions that we are going to answer.

What is interpersonal psychotherapy?

In a nutshell, IPT is a form of psychotherapy that was designed to treat mood disorders. The therapy focuses on improving the quality of the patient’s relationships, as well as their social functioning. It is also a very focused therapy that has a somewhat short time limit. This means that you can expect results much faster than with some other therapy modalities. IPT works through solving the patient’s problems in four main areas:

  • Interpersonal deficits
  • Unresolved grief
  • Life transitions
  • Interpersonal disputes
married couple sitting on a bench, result of a successful interpersonal psychotherapy
IPT aims to improve the quality of patient relationships.

Now, not every individual will need help in all four areas. Most commonly, patients who undergo IPT will focus on one or two areas at a time. Additionally, IPT presents one of the best online therapy for depression solutions, provided the patient’s depression has roots in their interpersonal relationships. To better understand if you can benefit from IPT, you may want to understand the key areas the therapy works on. Let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail.

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Interpersonal deficits

This area includes any unfulfilling relationships the patient may have, as well as potential social isolation. These can stem from a variety of factors and identifying these factors is the first step the patient will take. The patient works with a therapist to analyze any interpersonal deficits they may have, and then work on solving them. These deficits can be rather varied, and they are unique to each patient. That being said, IPT has some common denominators that are applicable in a wide variety of situations. It is the therapist’s job to figure out the approach that is best suited to their patients.

Unresolved grief

Unresolved grief can have an extreme effect on one’s mental state. Sometimes, individuals may even not be aware that their grief is holding them back. In some cases, patients may look for the best online anxiety treatment, without figuring out the main source of their anxiety. The main issue is that unresolved grief can be very difficult to self-diagnose. The death of a loved one can have an extremely powerful effect on our psyche, after all. And this effect can go on even after decades have passed.

a grieving person
Unresolved grief can be very stifling.

What IPT does is identifies whether any unresolved grief is present, as well as the patient’s stage of grief. It also teaches the patient how their cognitive processes influence their relationships. The main difference between interpersonal psychotherapy and other forms of psychotherapy is the fact that IPT works through a prism of interpersonal relationships. The therapy aims to better the patient’s life by helping them adopt a different way of thinking.

Life transitions

A person’s life transitions can severely influence their mood. Changing a job and having to move to another city can be very hard for some people, for example. A few more examples of life transitions include divorce and retirement. But anything that changes a person’s life in a significant manner can be called a life transition. And with every transition, your interpersonal relationships change. What IPT does is analyzes how the patient’s transitions influence their relationships. It also offers a way to cope with major life transitions.

Interpersonal disputes

This is one of the most common reasons why people choose to undergo IPT. Interpersonal disputes are basically disagreements between two individuals. They can be either personal, professional, emotional, or physical. Some examples of interpersonal disputes include conflicting expectations, financial disagreements, workplace disputes, and similar.

IPT helps its patients resolve these issues through analysis, corrective action, and compromise. Other benefits of interpersonal therapy include increased problem-solving skills, as well as better interpersonal skills. The patients will learn how to handle their current problems and avoid similar problems in the future. As the handling of interpersonal disputes is a skill, it can be useful to pretty much anyone. Many people without any health issues choose to undergo IPT to learn how to solve disputes and improve the quality of their relationships.

Why is IPT so popular?

two people in a hug
Our relationships influence us more than we know.

Interpersonal psychotherapy is gaining popularity at a rapid pace. Originally developed more than 20 years ago, this treatment modality offers a solution to some of the key problems of the modern world. As the world becomes more and more global, and the social environment changes, people need a way to improve their relationships more than ever. By teaching its patients how to improve the quality of their relationships, IPT reduces or removes depression that stems from relationship factors. And there are also all the benefits of psychodynamic therapy to consider.

Since relationships have a huge role in our overall mental health, it is no wonder that a treatment modality that focuses solely on them is extremely popular. And there’s the fact that even the healthiest individuals can benefit from IPT teachings.

When should you consider interpersonal psychotherapy?

Originally, IPT was designed and developed to treat major depressive disorders by improving the patient’s interpersonal relationships. However, this therapy modality is now used to treat many other disorders, such as drug/alcohol addiction, eating disorders, as well as bipolar disorder, and dysthymia. IPT helps with these issues by examining the current relationships of their patients. This is a stark contrast to many other forms of psychotherapy, as they usually “look into the past”. With IPT, everything is about right now.

You may also want to consider interpersonal psychotherapy when you want to change your relationship patterns and work on your relationship difficulties. Or if you want to improve the quality of your relationships. Even though the practice is called therapy, it offers knowledge that is beneficial even to perfectly healthy individuals. Furthermore, these days you can take advantage of online counseling, making it even easier to enroll in IPT sessions. No matter where you live (aside from areas without internet access), it is now possible to get the help you need.

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What can you expect from IPT?

IPT is a treatment modality that has a “strict” time limit. Usually, a patient will undergo therapy sessions for no longer than 16 weeks and no less than 12. The entire treatment is also very structured, meaning that there will be homework, interviews, as well as continuous assessment.

It all starts with the therapist identifying your particular symptoms. This analysis will also include figuring out your expectations. While IPT focuses heavily on the present, the therapist will also analyze the patient’s social history, as well as any relationship changes over time.

Once the problem areas have been identified, the therapist then works with the patient to implement the best treatment strategy. This is unique to each patient, as there are no two individuals that are exactly alike. One of the ways to recognize a bad therapist is if they are offering you “one size fits all” solutions. As in, they are not looking to customize the treatment plan but are offering a standard solution. A good therapist will create a unique treatment plan, one that is in line with the patient’s strengths, weaknesses, and beliefs.

a clock, representing the time limit of interpersonal psychotherapy
IPT is a time-limited form of psychotherapy.

Another form of interpersonal psychotherapy is group therapy. Some individuals benefit much more from this approach. Group sessions also have a time limit and similar structure to individual sessions. The main difference is the fact that patients get to practice their interpersonal skills in an environment that supports them.

Group therapy also includes individual meetings with the therapist. During these meetings, the patient and the therapist review goals, strategies, and overall progress.

How to choose the best therapist for you?

Your choice of a therapist significantly impacts the efficacy of IPT. What you need to consider is that your therapist is not your friend. Many people mistake the relationship with their therapist to be a friendly one. While you do need to be comfortable around them, professional therapists are there to help you overcome your issues, not to be your friend. That being said, you want a therapist that you can “click” with. This is the most important factor when choosing a therapist, in fact.

By making a good rapport with your therapist, you will find it easier to build trust, authenticity, unconditional positive regard, and be more comfortable with them. While there may be many other factors that you may want to consider, being able to “click” with your therapist is by far the most important one.

Reviewing a therapist’s website

person working on a laptop
You may even want to take notes.

To make the best possible choice, you are going to need some information first. Before you make a call to the therapist’s office, you may want to look at their website, or at an online therapist directory. You want to note the credentials that the therapist has, as well as read their biographies. This will offer some insight into the therapist’s field of expertise, as well as into their personality. More importantly, you will be able to see whether the therapist works best with a certain age group. Also, since interpersonal psychotherapy depends on core concepts of psychotherapy to function, you may want to see where your therapist’s specialty lies.

Cost of the therapy and insurance coverage

Unfortunately, every psychodynamic therapy is quite expensive. And what’s worse, many therapy networks have limited insurance coverage. Thus, when choosing a therapist, you may want to ask a couple of financial questions as well. The first thing you want to know is the cost of an individual therapy session. Second, you will want to know whether your therapist accepts your insurance coverage. Additionally, there may be some out-of-pocket fees that you need to know about as well.

Even though you might find an ideal therapist, if you cannot cover the cost, they are not as ideal as you might think. You need to consider that the added financial stress can cause problems on its own, and may run counterproductive to the whole idea of therapy. It is best to go with the options that you can comfortably afford. If you find that you can’t afford IPT, try contacting local mental health agencies, pursuing Medicaid, or working with student counselors. While this may be a “hit or miss” approach, it is better than simply not getting any help.

Online IPT vs In-Person IPT

The fact that IPT focuses on interpersonal relationships (which include body language) makes it more suitable for an in-person approach. That being said, with the advance in technology, the difference between online IPT and in-person IPT is smaller than ever. And then there’s the availability, comfort, and other issues to consider. Online therapy offers much greater convenience to the patients, as well as a safe, comfortable, environment. There are no travel costs, either, which can significantly reduce the cost of the therapy. But the choice between online and offline is usually a personal one. Both modes have similar efficiency, with in-person IPT being slightly ahead, due to the fact that you are in the same room with the therapist and can benefit from body language.

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Interpersonal psychotherapy, as an empirically supported treatment, offers a great way to work through your interpersonal issues. To get the most out of it, however, choosing the best therapist is essential. To help you with that, you can find all the top online therapy networks right here, at Consumer Opinion Guide! You can also find more information about other therapy modalities, such as CBT and DBT.

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