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The Facts about Interpersonal Therapy

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 4/18/2011

Interpersonal therapy is form of therapy commonly recommended for people suffering from depression. In this article, you'll learn about how interpersonal therapy is used to treat depression, what to expect from treatment sessions, and the benefits interpersonal therapy can provide.

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    Interpersonal Therapy Facts

    Interpersonal therapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy that is commonly recommended to people suffering from depression. Short-term treatment usually involves 15-20 weekly sessions that generally last for 45 minutes to an hour. Unlike other forms of therapy, interpersonal therapy is an intensely structured form of treatment that focuses on four main issues - interpersonal disputes, role transitions, grief, and interpersonal deficits. Also unlike many other forms of therapy is the role assumed by the therapist. Whereas in most forms of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, the therapist assumes a neutral, often silent role, the interpersonal therapist maintains a warm, caring, compassionate demeanor. Because the short-term nature of treatment is explicitly stated from the beginning, the therapist avoids many of the issues present in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, such as interpretation of transference and other processes typically present in a psychoanalytic psychotherapy session.

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    Interpersonal Therapy and Depression

    Since interpersonal therapy is a short-term form of treatment, it is often combined with other types of "maintenance" therapy for depression, such as supportive counseling on a monthly basis. The focus on interpersonal therapy is mainly on the relationships in your life and examining dysfunction in these relationships.

    During the first phase of treatment, usually lasting for the first three sessions, the main focus is primarily on understanding the presenting problem, that is, the issue or issues that caused you to seek treatment in the first place. The symptoms of depression and your interpersonal relationships are discussed in detail, such as difficulties with your spouse, immediate family, work relationships, friendships, and so on.

    The second phase of treatment examines the problems in your primary relationships. The difficulties you are experiencing with others is believed to cause or exacerbate your depressive symptoms are looked at in detail. Additionally, issues such as grief or delayed grief in response to the loss of a loved one, role transitions, such as becoming a stay-at-home mom after having worked for a number of years and interpersonal deficits are examined. Interpersonal deficit means that you have difficulties maintaining relationships across the board, that is, there is an underlying issue, or social deficit, that is preventing you from enjoying fulfilling, meaningful relationships. The therapist tries to work with these issues and promote change through the establishment of the therapeutic relationship, identification of the issues, and bringing them to light and consequently trying to modify these behaviors.

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    Benefits of Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

    A number of benefits may be conferred through participating in interpersonal therapy. One main benefit is that you learn concrete skills, such as problem-solving skills, communication skills and other interpersonal skills that can help you with conflicts in your relationships. Additionally, if issues of grief are present, interpersonal therapy can provide a safe environment for the expression of your feelings of loss and bereavement, creating a cathartic experience. You also learn how to make adjustments to your behaviors, such as self-defeating behaviors or hostile behaviors, that impact your relationships, and are encouraged to develop new or healthier relationships. The combination of these benefits is seen to have a positive impact on depression and the reduction of depressive symptoms.

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    References

    University of Michigan Depression Center: Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression: http://www.med.umich.edu/depression/ipt.htm

    International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy: An Overview: http://www.interpersonalpsychotherapy.org/



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