Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

What is Interpersonal Psychotherapy  (IPT)?

IPT is a time limited and structured psychotherapy. A central idea in IPT is that psychological problems, such as depressed mood can be understood as a response to current difficulties in relationships. In turn, the depressed mood can affect the quality of our relationships.

For example, if someone is depressed they may withdraw from people close to them, apparently refusing their help (perhaps because they feel like a failure and are ashamed of this). Family and friends may feel rejected and hurt, unable to understand why their offers of help are not taken up, and they may, in turn, pull away.

The depressed person may take this as confirmation of their view of themselves as a failure and this could make them feel even more depressed and withdrawn, setting up a vicious cycle.

How does it work?

The main focus of IPT is on relationship problems and on helping the person identify how they are feeling and behaving in their relationships. When a person is able to deal with a relationship problem more effectively, their psychological symptoms often improve. IPT typically focuses on the following relationship difficulties:

  • Conflict with another person
  • Life changes that affect how you feel about yourself and others
  • Grief and loss
  • Difficulty in starting or keeping relationships going
What does IPT involve?

Your therapist will need to get as good a picture as they can of what you are finding difficult in your life and how this is affecting you and the people close to you. They will ask you questions, but will make it clear that you only need to give as much information as you feel comfortable with.

Your therapist will also ask you about your symptoms and about past and current relationships in your life.

Your therapist will ask you questions to help you take stock of the relationships that are important to you, looking at their strengths and any problems.

Once you and your therapist have gained a clearer picture of the relationship difficulties that are connected to your symptoms, you can agree on the main problem areas that your therapy can focus on.

Content adapted from WHICH talking therapy for depression? A guide to understanding the different psychological therapies you may be offered to treat your depression. Produced by the National IAPT Programme, with thanks to those who have contributed to this document.