Alternatives and options: that’s what emotional and mental healthcare needs to be about. A great example is psychotherapy. Fact is, some work better for specific conditions than others. Let’s talk about interpersonal psychotherapy.

IPT has produced nice results in adults and adolescents enduring depression, treatment-resistant depression, bipolar disorder, cyclothymic disorder, bulimia, and more.

The idea shelf is always full here on Chipur. Therapies, meds, coping skills, research – we do it all.

Today we’ll pull interpersonal psychotherapy off the shelf and see what’s what.

Let’s get busy…

What is interpersonal psychotherapy?

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 uncovering the unconscious material that’s believed to generate emotional and mental distress. In psychodynamic work, the relationship between client and therapist is huge.

But IPT goes beyond merely the psychodynamic. For example, its time-limited structure and use of homework resembles cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Existing in the environment

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

Dealing with 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, treatment-resistant 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

IPT is grounded in what its founders call the interpersonal triad. So you can grasp it well, let’s take a look at something known as the diathesis-stress model.

Diathesis-stress model

The diathesis-stress model is a psych theory that posits behavior is generated as a result of biological and genetic vulnerabilities, as well as stress from life experiences. So it’s about vulnerabilities coming to life in the face of 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 their 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 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 a wrap

Well, there’s a thumbnail on what I believe is a wonderful therapy for depression, as well as other troubling emotional and 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 their IPT credentials.

Would you like to learn more? Pay a visit to The International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy.

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