Interpersonal therapy is a method for treating depression that examines the way you relate to people, thereby helping you to build supportive relationships.
Depression is a complex condition, and though our understanding of it has advanced much in recent times, we still have much more to learn. It can take many forms, and affect many facets our lives; whether it be our careers, personal relationships, or sense of self-worth.
Just as there are different ways in which depression can manifest itself, so are there different methods for treating it, and one of those methods is interpersonal therapy.
What is interpersonal therapy?
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a method of treating depression that focuses purely on relationships. Any sufferer of depression can attest that relationships are an aspect of your life that will be significantly impacted by the condition, whether it be relationships with your family, friends or significant other.
Of course, your relationships can also be your greatest boon. Interpersonal therapy helps to ensure that your relationships function as a valuable support network, rather than just another obstacle on the road to recovery.
Relationship issues are usually treated within the context of four key problem areas. The therapist will spend the first few sessions attempting to determine which of those four areas are most relevant to the client’s situation . Once they’ve done that, they will align their strategy accordingly.
The four areas of focus for interpersonal therapy are as follows:
- Unresolved grief: The depressive episode has been triggered by a recent traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one.
- Role transition: The client is struggling to deal with a major life change, such as divorce, retirement or relocation to a new city.
- Role dispute: The client is suffering as a result of unrealistic expectations on the part of themselves or other people in their life.
- Interpersonal deficits: The therapist suspects that the patient is having difficulty relating to people, and this is resulting in social isolation or a lack of fulfilling relationships.
Interpersonal therapy was designed specifically as a time-sensitive form of treatment, and thus entails a structured approach that usually occurs in three phases:
The goal Identify the initial problem, and determine which of the four problem areas provide the context for treatment.
The method The therapist will interview and assess the client, as well as other important people in the client’s life. Using this information, the therapist constructs an ‘interpersonal inventory’ that describes the client’s relationships and behavioral patterns. The therapist then presents their findings to the client, who has the opportunity to provide their own input.
The goal Help the client identify the source of their relationship issues, and provide them with the necessary coping mechanisms.
The method By this point, the therapist will have identified one or more of the four key problem areas as the context for treatment. They will help the client accept painful emotions, establish supportive relationships, and carve out an appropriate role for themselves within the context of their relationships.
The goal Prepare the client for the termination of therapy.
The method The therapist addresses any fears the patient may have about ending the therapy, and schedules future sessions for the purpose of ‘checking in’, if necessary.
Strengths and weaknesses of interpersonal therapy
The primary benefit of interpersonal therapy is its short-term application – a result of the structured approach. Patients typically experience relief from symptoms within 20 weeks, or about 12 to 16 sessions. Additional sessions can be scheduled in the long run to ensure continued progress.
However, interpersonal therapy does require that the client be willing to examine their own role in relationships, and how their behaviour might be contributing to conflict. Without the capacity for self-reflection on the client’s part, treatment will be unable to progress.
In the long-term, treatments that address negative thought patterns, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), may be required; but interpersonal therapy is an effective short-term treatment, one that can serve as a precursor to other forms of treatment. It is recognised internationally as an effective treatment for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
If you’re interested in learning more about the methods used to treat depression, you should consider studying counselling at SACAP. There are a range of counselling courses on offer that can help pave the way for a career in counselling. For more information, enquire now.