How people can benefit from interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy is not a new concept. People have been struggling with mental issues since the dawn of time. It is only in recent years, however, that the practice has been widely accepted. Today, it is more than fine to seek help resolving your mental issues. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a form of psychotherapy that involves short periods of time and it is used effectively in treating depression and other mental conditions. And with the advent of top online therapy companies, the practice is now available for pretty much everyone. In this article, we are going to explore the various IPT types, the issues they solve, and how effective the therapy actually is.

What is Interpersonal Therapy?

a couple that needs interpersonal therapy
Interpersonal therapy focuses on improving relationships.

Interpersonal therapy focuses on individuals’ interpersonal relationships, as well as their social interactions. This includes how much support you receive from others and the way those interactions and relationships have on your mental state. This is a short-term form of psychotherapy, usually lasting between 12 and 16 sessions. IPT is particularly effective in dealing with depression.

When the practice was first developed, depression was considered to be based on the person, and not the environment. IPT, on the other hand, recognizes the extreme impact that relationships can have on individuals’ mental health.

Interpersonal therapy types

IPT has several types of treatment, most notably metacognitive and dynamic. The counselor takes the approach that is best suited for the particular patient, depending on the patient’s needs.

Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy

This approach addresses personality disorders that feature holding back your emotions (prominent emotional inhibition). It is an integrative approach that improves the individual’s ability to identify emotions. Therapists often use this IPT adaptation for couple’s therapy, as well, as marital troubles can often lead to depression.

Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy

You may already know about DIT by the name of psychodynamic interpersonal therapy. It was designed to help patients better understand their own feelings and thoughts, as well as those of others. This therapy type lasts the longest and usually requires full 16 sessions over five months.

Techniques used in IPT

Due to the fact that IPT focuses on improving relationships, the first step is to create an “interpersonal inventory”. What this means is that you will detail all significant relationships in your life. This includes all the past relationships as well. Once the therapist creates the inventory, they group it into four major problem areas. The problem areas are:

  • Grief
  • Role dispute
  • Role transition
  • Interpersonal deficits


A common cause of depression is a loss of a loved one. Everyone goes through the stages of grief, of course, but for some people, unresolved grief can cause lasting mental issues. If grief remains for a long time after the loss or causes the patient not to feel any emotions at all, it may lead to more problematic symptoms, such as insomnia, depression, and fatigue.

The goal of IPT is not to end the mourning period but to make it easier while guiding the patient to the right path. Your therapist will not discourage grieving but it will help you overcome the negative effects that come with it.

Role dispute

When people have different expectations for their relationships, role disputes occur. A prime example of this is when people feel that their spouse needs to display more affection. Or ask more questions about the other’s day. This is a very common issue, one that IPT aims to address. This disconnect between expectations and reality can often lead to depression.

The way that IPT handles these issues is by helping the patients recognize their own feelings, what they don’t want and what they do want. In most cases, there will need to be some sort of compromise.

Role transition

Another common cause of depression is when people are undergoing life transitions. For some people, once their role changes, transitioning can be a very difficult issue. Some examples of role transition include getting married or divorced, retiring, or becoming a parent. These transitions change the person’s life and may interfere with or interrupt established social ties.

baby's hand
Becoming a parent can be very challenging.

What IPT does is identify any interpersonal problems that occur from these transitions and help the patient deal with them. Resolving interpersonal issues usually has a significant impact on the patient’s wellbeing.

Interpersonal deficits

Most of us experience some sort of inadequacy. But for others, these feelings can lead to serious mental health issues. It is difficult to create and maintain relationships, after all, and expressing emotions does not come naturally to everyone. The goal of IPT, in this case, is to identify which area is causing the most mental health problems. Then the therapist can direct the therapy to help patients deal with specific interpersonal issues.

Mental health problems that IPT helps with

You may have noticed that we’ve mentioned depression more than once. This is due to the fact that interpersonal therapy was originally designed to be a short-term treatment for depression. However, after years of practice, studies show that IPT makes for an effective treatment for much more than depression. Mental issues that can benefit from IPT include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Dysthymia
  • Eating disorders
  • Social anxiety disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Alcohol and substance use disorders

Furthermore, IPT is quite effective in dealing with any attachment issues patients might have, as well as transitions, grief, relationship conflicts, and role adjustments.

Benefits of interpersonal therapy

person holding a rubik cube
IPT can enhance your problem-solving skills.

The main benefit that patients get from IPT sessions are improved relationships and decreased depression. Patients will get a much greater understanding of how relationships actually influence their lives. This results in better social functioning.

Unlike some other psychotherapy forms, interpersonal therapy does not delve into inner conflicts. What it does is focus on current relationships and how they affect your mental health. Most of the time, simply improving relationships can have a significant effect on a person’s mental state. IPT looks at depression in the context of relationships, in other words. The goal of the therapy is to improve the way patients interact with others.

The most notable benefits of interpersonal therapy include:

  • Better relationships
  • Better coping skills
  • Increased problem-solving skills
  • Better interpersonal skills

IPT improves relationships

Since the whole premise of the therapy is based on relationships, it stands to reason that the main benefit of this treatment modality is improved relationships. Patients will find it much easier to create and maintain healthy, fulfilling, relationships, and avoid meaningless relationships. The fact of the matter is that you may even want to undergo IPT even if you don’t have any mental issues. The fact that the therapy improves the critical aspects of one’s life is worth it on its own.

Patients learn how to cope better

The fact of the matter is that we all have to cope with something, from time to time. But the way that we cope with our issues is extremely important. What IPT does is provide a way for patients to cope much easier with their issues. IPT teaches patients how to calm down when they are angry, how to grieve without letting the grief interfere in their lives, and similar.

This is yet another aspect of IPT that is perfectly suitable even for mentally healthy individuals. By knowing how you can manage your emotions and relationships in difficult moments, you can prevent many mental problems from occurring in the first place.

Greater problem-solving skills

Undergoing IPT sessions also teach the patients how to solve their problems in safe, productive ways. This includes handling stress, thought communication, and much more. It shows the patients how to identify problems and apply solutions in a practical manner.

Better interpersonal skills

Through IPT, the patients will not only resolve their interpersonal issues, but they will improve their interpersonal skills as well. Everything that you learn to apply to a specific problem can also be applied to a range of other situations. An example of this is an individual who learns how to be more assertive in a specific situation (e.g. intrusive parent). By learning how to deal with a specific problem, the individual is getting the necessary skills to deal with any similar issues.

Improved interpersonal skills allow patients to decrease stress and maintain social support. They can also help from being derailed by any interpersonal problems in the future.

Effectiveness of interpersonal therapy

IPT is highly effective for dealing with depressive disorders and many other mental health issues. It is usually combined with some sort of medication, in certain circumstances. A systematic review from 2013 found that IPT is as effective as CBT for the treatment of depressive disorders and that it is recommended as a first-line treatment for these conditions.

Other research shows that IPT can help prevent major depression from “taking root” in patients, as well as help prevent any relapses. Furthermore, interpersonal therapy shows significant effects when it comes to dealing with anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use, and a variety of other mental disorders. The therapy will also reduce relationship issues and help improve depression that stems from them.

Important considerations and how to get started

Interpersonal therapy is a very appealing and effective option. However, it is not the best choice for every patient. The key factor in any treatment process is motivation, after all. If the patient is simply unwilling to examine and address their relationships, IPT cannot help. Furthermore, even if IPT successfully resolves disorders, there is always a chance that they relapse. Meaning that the patients may require additional, “maintenance”, sessions. These sessions serve to prevent any relapses, maintain progress, and reinforce skills. This inevitably increases the therapy costs and is something that you need to consider.

The basic form of IPT lasts for approximately 12 to 16 weeks and includes homework assignments, regular assessments, as well as therapist interviews. During the first few appointments, the therapist will focus on learning more about your symptoms, yourself, and your relationship history. Once that is over, the work to address specific problem areas begins. There are many strategies that the therapists can employ as the treatment progresses, meaning that the sessions might change over time.

person doing homework
You can expect some homework.

IPT is available in several formats such as individual and group sessions, as well as a form of online therapy. For best results, patients might want to consider taking medications to augment their therapy sessions. Research shows that the combination of medications and treatment is much more effective than either one on its own.

In some cases, it may be quite beneficial to bring significant others with you to therapy sessions. IPT focuses on interpersonal relationships, after all. But this is something that you need to consider after talking to your therapist. They will also recommend any medications and other treatment modalities that can support IPT.

Interpersonal therapy FAQ

What will happen in the first session?

The goal of the first session is to completely assess the nature of the patient’s problems, and their situation as well as to formulate a plan of treatment. You can expect numerous personal questions, as well as questions about a variety of matters that relate to your problems. At times, the first session might also feature psychological testing or consultation with the other members of your family (with your written permission, of course).

Are there any risks to interpersonal therapy?

As with any form of psychotherapy, there are some risks involved. namely, discussing unpleasant aspects of your life may come with uncomfortable feelings. Patients may experience sadness, frustration, guilt, helplessness, as well as anger.

Do I need to choose between IPT and CBT?

No, as all therapists train in both IPT and CBT. Both therapies complement one another, and therapists can use techniques from both modalities in their sessions. Most times, one approach will be better than the other, which your therapist will identify and apply.

Mental health is a broad subject, and there are numerous companies that offer in-person therapy or online solutions. Consumer Opinion Guide is your go-to resource when it comes to getting all the information you need to make the best decisions.

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