What is Interpersonal Therapy?

How Does Interpersonal Therapy Work?

Interpersonal therapy was originally developed to treat major depression in a very structured setting. Though it was initially intended for adults, modifications have since been made so it can be applied as a useful form of therapy for both adolescents and elderly people as well.

A study done to ascertain efficacy of antidepressants found that IPT as a form of therapy can be quite effective, especially when combined with medication to treat depression. 

“One of the important ways that we understand ourselves is to observe how we interact with people. Our interactions reveal to us where we need to heal.”

Talkspace Therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

IPT is based on a fundamental concept that symptoms can be the result of issues you’re facing in your everyday life or in everyday relationships with people in your life. There are four areas that IPT focuses on:

  • Major life changes — the birth of a child or death of a loved one, job loss, or anything else that might have a significant impact on how you feel about yourself and the world around you
  • Serious conflict in relationships that cause you distress or affect your ability to function
  • Difficulty either beginning or maintaining relationships
  • Grief or loss

What are the phases of interpersonal therapy?

IPT is structured, which means there are definitive phases that’ll be used throughout the course of your therapy. There are three separate phases a therapist will help you go through. For example, your interpersonal therapy structure might look something like the following: 

Phase 1: Sessions 1 – 3

The initial phase of IPT consists of a therapist garnering as much information from you as possible so they can decide how to best-focus the remainder of your therapy. Together, you and your IPT therapist will essentially create a list of all the relationships in your life. Each relationship on  your list, known as an interpersonal inventory, will then be grouped into one of the four areas IPT treatment focuses on.

Phase 2: Sessions for 4 – 14

During the middle sessions of IPT, you’ll spend time working on and enhancing areas of your life you want to see improvement in. Your IPT therapist will be there to support you and will work with you as you try to create solutions to each of your problems. Then, in between sessions, you’ll do work on your own to further your progress.

Phase 3: Sessions 15 – 16

Finally, the last couple sessions of IPT will be spent helping you navigate any grief or loss you may be experiencing. You’ll revisit the issues you originally identified and assess how much progress you’ve made dealing with each one.



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