What Is Interpersonal Therapy for Depression?

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What is Interpersonal Therapy for Depression?

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term form of psychotherapy, usually 12 to 16 sessions, that is used to treat depression. As its name suggests, IPT focuses on your interpersonal relationships and social interactions, including how much support you have from others and the impact these relationships are having on your mental health.

Interpersonal therapy is sometimes used in a modified form of couple's therapy, such as when marital troubles are contributing to your depression. Engaging in IPT as a couple has been found to improve depression and reduce relationship issues.

Why It's Important

This form of psychotherapy is based on the notion that depression occurs in the context of relationships. In other words, your relationships can potentially increase or decrease your depression, and feeling depressed can impact your relationships. As such, the goal of IPT is to relieve your depressive symptoms by improving the way you interact with others.

Unlike some of the other forms of psychotherapy for depression, IPT does not attempt to delve into your inner conflicts resulting from past experiences. Rather, it focuses primarily on your current relationships, how they may be impacting your depression symptoms, and ways that you can improve your interactions for a healthier state of mind.

Some research has found that interpersonal therapy can help prevent the development of major depression. Engaging in IPT regularly may also help prevent depression relapses.

Types of Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

There are a couple of different adaptation of interpersonal therapy worth knowing about.

Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy

Dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT) is also sometimes referred to as psychodynamic interpersonal therapy or mentalization based therapy. DIT is designed to you better understand your own thoughts and feelings, as well as the thoughts and feelings of others. It generally consists of 16 sessions over the course of five months.

Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy

Metacognitive interpersonal therapy (MIT) is an integrative approach to address personality disorders with prominent emotional inhibition (holding back your emotions) or avoidance. One 12-week study found that engaging in MIT helped reduce depression symptoms and improve the ability to identify emotions.

How Interpersonal Therapy for Depression Works

Because IPT takes the approach of improving depression by improving relationships, it begins with the therapist conducting an interpersonal inventory. This inventory is a detailed review of your significant relationships, both current and past. These relationships are then grouped according to four main problem areas.

Grief

Depression can occur as a result of the loss of a loved one. While it is normal to go through the five stages of grief in this type of situation, a major loss can also result in unresolved grief. This is grief that is delayed (remains for a long time after the loss), distorted, or grief in which you may not feel emotions, but instead experience other symptoms related to depression such as insomnia and fatigue.

Role Dispute

Role disputes occur when you and the significant people in your life have different expectations about your relationship. An example of this is if you feel that your spouse should display more affection or ask more questions about your day. This can cause you to feel depressed when they don't do these things.

Role Transition

Depression may occur during life transitions, when your role changes and you don't know how to cope with that change. Getting married, getting divorced, becoming a parent, and retiring are all examples of role transitions.

Interpersonal Deficits

If you find it difficult to form and maintain good quality relationships, IPT can help identify your interpersonal deficits. This can include any feelings of inadequacy you may have, whether you find it difficult to express your emotions, and other feelings or beliefs that are preventing you from communicating effectively.

Your therapist can help you determine which area is the most responsible for your depression. Therapy is then directed at helping you deal with this specific interpersonal issue.

Tips for Using Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

IPT is available in a variety of formats ranging from individual to group sessions, and sessions in which you can either participate in person or over telehealth.

It may also be beneficial to combine IPT with other depression treatments. For example, research shows that combining therapy with medication is often more effective than doing either one on its own.

History of Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

In the 1960s, when IPT was first developed, many mental health professionals conceptualized depression as "person-based." That is, depression was not considered to be based on one's environment. Yet, some health experts recognized that a person's relationships can have a huge impact on mental health.

This led to the creation of IPT and using therapy to help patients understand how their relationships affected their life. The goal was two-fold: to help patients function better socially and to reduce their feelings of depression.

Since that time, IPT has been found to be effective for treating different types and severity of depressive disorders. IPT may be best when combined with medication in certain circumstances.

Interpersonal therapy recognizes that depression is not always a "person issue," but can also be caused by relationship issues.

A Word From Verywell

Interpersonal therapy can help effectively treat depression by focusing on aspects of your relationships that might be fueling the disorder. In some cases, it may even be helpful to bring significant others into the therapy process directly. Your doctor can help you determine whether IPT is right for your type of depression, as well as if it would work better if combined with other treatments.

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