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What is Interpersonal Psychotherapy?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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Interpersonal psychotherapy, abbreviated IPT, is a type of talk therapy undertaken with a psychologist, typically for addressing the causes of depression as directly related to interpersonal relationships. This type of therapy is intensely focused on relationships and interactions with others, which means it may be a good choice for some people while not as effective for others who may have additional issues. This is typically a determination that the therapist will make. In addition, interpersonal psychotherapy is typically intended to be a short term therapy, used to resolve specific problems rather than addressing all of one's issues over a period of months or years.

Though interpersonal psychotherapy was originally intended for people suffering from depression, it may be used for other mental disorders such as bipolar disorder or panic disorder, among others. It is a type of psychodynamic therapy in which the therapist and the patient will work together to briefly analyze the underlying causes of interpersonal relationship issues, which are contributing to the depression or other mental disorder. Though influences from one's past or childhood are considered, the focus is largely on the present issues, and what can immediately be done to begin resolving the problem. This type of therapy may be used for people of all ages, but is more common in adults.

Both individuals and couples may work on themselves in interpersonal psychotherapy, though it is most commonly an individual type of therapy. Couples usually only participate in this if the problems are a direct result of interactions between the two people, and effective strategies may be given to both people. Because interpersonal psychotherapy is intended to be short term and fairly limited in scope, some couples find that they benefit more from therapy over a longer term and with a deeper consideration of the underlying issues that are causing the relationship problems.

The format of interpersonal psychotherapy may be different for each therapist, but typically only a brief time is spent on history, and more time is focused on current relationships, emotions, and existing issues that may be preventing the treatment from working. Discussions of what the client hopes to achieve from therapy, and whether these goals are realistic or not, and how they can be modified, may also be included. The therapist will typically focus on changes that can be made immediately that can help to relieve the symptoms of depression and prevent them from returning in the future, as well as encourage healthy social interactions.

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