Interpersonal Psychotherapy: Defeating Depression

by | Sep 21, 2011

“Alternatives and options…I need ’em, Bill! It seems as though I’ve found a good therapist, but the work isn’t productive. Anything I can suggest?”

Ah, the idea shelf is always full here at chipur. Here’s a neat therapy model – Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT).

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

IPT is unique because it draws from several psychotherapeutic disciplines. At its foundation, it’s a psychodynamic therapy. What does that mean? Well, the primary work of psychodynamic therapy is to uncover the unconscious material that’s believed to generate emotional and mental distress. In psychodynamic work, the relationship between client and therapist is just huge.

But IPT goes beyond merely the psychodynamic. For example, it’s time-limited, structure, and use of homework characteristics resemble cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Job #1 in IPT is the reduction of symptoms. And to accomplish it, client and therapist work together to improve interpersonal functioning and increase social support.

It’s no great revelation to you, I’m sure, that having significant interpersonal – relationship – woes can have a devastating impact upon one’s emotional and mental well-being. And so in IPT, the work is focused upon how one exists within the context of their environment, as opposed to how they exist within. ‘Course, feeling better about how one functions “interpersonally” will work wonders for the “within” piece.

IPT has produced nice results in adults and adolescents enduring depression, bipolar disorder, cyclothymic disorder, bulimia, and more. A typical course of IPT ranges from 6-20 sessions. Maintenance sessions are important.

The Interpersonal Triad

Ding! Ding! Ding! Huge psychobabble warning. But fear not, I’ll get you through.

IPT is grounded in what its founders call The Interpersonal Triad. So you can grasp it well, I’m going to dial you in on something known as the diathesis-stress model.

Pretty easy – and interesting – stuff, actually. The diathesis-stress model is a psych theory that posits behavior is generated as a result of biological and genetic vulnerabilities, and stress from life experiences. Makes sense, don’t you think? It’s about vulnerabilities coming to life in the face stressors.

So in IPT, The Interpersonal Triad includes these components…

  • An acute interpersonal crisis
  • Biopsychosocial (one’s personal biological, emotional, mental, and social “package”)
  • Social support

And here’s how they fit together. An acute personal crisis (stressor) kicks things off. One’s ability to manage the crisis is influenced by her/his biopsychosocial vulnerabilities. And social support – relationships, etc. – can either make things measurably better or worse.

That’s The Interpersonal Triad.

The Flow of IPT

In the initial stages of IPT, the work is about setting therapeutic goals. Doing so involves a thorough assessment, identifying major areas of opportunity, diagnosis, and creating a treatment contract.

Then it’s on to working on the identified areas of opportunity. In doing so, IPT addresses four major areas…

  • Grief: Common are delayed or distorted grief reactions. The work involves facilitating the grieving process, learning to accept difficult emotions, and replacing lost relationships.
  • Role Dispute: It’s not uncommon for the client to have experienced nonreciprocal relationship expectations. So it’s about coming to understand the nature of the misunderstandings (disputes), communication issues, and how to alter communication strategies without sacrificing personal principles.
  • Role Transition: Moving from a comfortable, yet distress-generating, role to a new one is dicey business. IPT helps with the transition, allowing the client to express concerns – and providing strategies and techniques to aid in moving forward.
  • Interpersonal Deficits: Agreed upon interpersonal and communication challenges are addressed with a variety of exercises. If isolation is exists, the goal is to relieve it.

The client and therapist are always working together to integrate and complete the above work. Of course, that requires ongoing discussion as to progress and areas that are begging for attention.

As the time for therapy termination gets closer, relapse prevention is emphasized. And a major topic of discussion becomes the client’s thoughts and feelings regarding parting company.

That’s It

Well, there’s a thumbnail on what I believe is a wonderful therapy for depression, as well as other troubling emotional/mental situations.

If your therapy work is seemingly going nowhere, it’s totally appropriate to ask your therapist if using IPT is an option. Should you be looking for a new therapist, inquire about IPT.

Would you like to learn more? Click here to head over to the website of The International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy.

How ’bout more chipur Feelin’ Better articles. Right here. And for chipur articles on the psychology of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, click away.

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