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Why Turn to Interpersonal Therapy

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Why Turn to Interpersonal Therapy

            Interpersonal Therapy, often referred to as IPT, was originally designed to assist patients battling depression. By focusing on an individual’s personal relationship patterns, their capacity for intimacy, and current relationships, therapists are able to identify underlying issues that may be causing distress. It is thought that by changing an individual’s daily environment to be more comfortable, it will ultimately help their mental health. In other words, a therapist, through interpersonal therapy, attempts to pinpoint a temporary, fixable circumstance that may be triggering an increase in depressive feelings and episodes. Studies have shown that interpersonal therapy may be particularly effective at preventing new depressive disorders or maintaining a stable lifestyle. Let’s take a deeper look at interpersonal therapy techniques and why depression patients often turn to interpersonal therapy.

Encouraging Growth

Throughout the course of IPT treatment, the therapist equips the patient with better skills to assert their needs and wants in interpersonal encounters and encourages healthy expression of emotions. While practicing IPT, therapists will also validate a patient’s frustrations and acknowledge the external experiences causing a person to feel depressed. In taking personal blame away from mental illness and struggle, it becomes easier to foster growth. This is a cornerstone belief of IPT; depression is a medical, treatable condition rather than the patient’s personal default. Furthermore, by teaching useful skills to better communicate and express oneself, IPT prepares patients to prevent and more successfully handle depressive episodes in the future.

The Treatment Structure

            IPT is a time-limited treatment with three phases: beginning (1-3 weeks), middle (8-10 weeks), and end (3 weeks).

Beginning Phase

To begin, the therapist must first identify the target diagnosis and the interpersonal context in which it presents. Again, emphasis is put on treating the diagnosis as a temporary illness. The patient may be given the sick role, a temporary status that recognizes a person’s depression prevents them from functioning at full-capacity. Next, in doing an “interpersonal inventory” by reviewing relationship patterns, capacity for intimacy, and current relationships a focus for treatment emerges. Connecting the diagnosis to an interpersonal focus highlights the link between life events and mood.

There are four main interpersonal focuses, which include, complicated bereavement, role dispute, role transition, and interpersonal deficits. Complicated bereavement refers to the loss of a loved one. Role disputes may include a dispute with a significant other while role transition refers to an important life change. Lastly, interpersonal deficits refers to the absence of current life events. Once treatment parameters are set by defining the diagnosis, interpersonal focus, and time-limit of the therapy treatment patients will enter the middle phase of treatment.

Middle Phase

            The middle, longest phase of treatment is dedicated to utilizing specific strategies to deal with whichever interpersonal focus was defined in the beginning phase. Strategies may include things such as encouraging appropriate mourning of death, mourning the loss of an old role to be able to transition into a new one, solving interpersonal struggles in disputes with others, or decreasing self-isolation. Strategies used will differ depending on the specifics of a patient’s diagnosis. Additionally, during the middle phase, the therapist will equip the patient with the skills to better assert their needs and wants in interpersonal encounters and emphasize the importance of effective emotional expression. The therapist may also encourage a patient to take appropriate social risks.

End Phase

            During the final weeks of treatment, the therapist works to build the patients self-confidence and reassure them that they are independent and capable. The therapist will also prepare the patient for the role transition inevitable with the ending of treatment. It is important for both the therapist and patient to acknowledge there will be both good and painful moments following the end of treatment. It may also be suggested that the patient continues with therapy sessions, at a less frequent pace, to help with treatment maintenance. 

Where to Find IPT

            It is important when looking for IPT to find a licensed psychotherapist trained in IPT methods. Fortunately, IPT is just one of the therapy methods Chriselda Santos, licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach, has dedicated her career to perfecting. If you are interested in learning more about IPT, or some of Chriselda’s other top-notch therapy techniques, visit her website, call her at 210-549-6663 or email at [email protected]