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Depression Health Center

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Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

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Interpersonal therapy, or IPT, is a short-term, limited-focus treatment for depression. Studies have shown that IPT, which addresses interpersonal issues, may be at least as effective as short-term treatment with antidepressants for mild to moderate forms of clinical depression. Originally developed to treat depression in adults, it has been shown to be effective in treating adolescent depression and is commonly recommended as a treatment for depression in children.

Events surrounding interpersonal relationships do not cause depression. But depression occurs within an interpersonal context and affects relationships and the roles of people within those relationships. By addressing interpersonal issues, interpersonal therapy for depression puts emphasis on the way symptoms are related to a person's relationships, including family and peers.

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When Scott Davis, 38, was suffering from major depression, he confided in his sister-law. “One day I found myself talking to her about all my fears about the depression, and the medication and therapy I was beginning. I was overcome with anxiety about my future, and she said, ‘I’ve been there.’ Those three words lifted all the pain I was feeling.” Few decisions are as personal as whether to tell a loved one that you are suffering from major depression. “Telling someone about depression isn’t something...

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The immediate goals of treatment are rapid symptom reduction and improved social adjustment. The long-term goal is to enable people with depression to make their own needed adjustments. When they can do that, they are better able to cope with and reduce depressive symptoms.

What Are the Ideas Behind Interpersonal Therapy for Depression?

Interpersonal therapy is a manual-based treatment. That means the therapist strictly adheres to a treatment process whose effectiveness is supported by evidence.

According to the International Society for Interpersonal Therapy, there are three components to depression.

  • Symptom formation
  • Social functioning
  • Personality issues

IPT is a short-term treatment option that typically consists of 12 to 16 one-hour weekly sessions. Because it is so brief, IPT does not address personality issues. Instead, the therapist focuses on identifiable problems in how an individual interacts with or doesn't interact with others. When those problems are addressed, the patient realizes a benefit in his or her experience of symptoms.

Except to check on their severity and the effect of the various treatments, symptoms are not addressed in therapy sessions. Instead the therapist works collaboratively with the patient, either individually or in a group, to identify and then address one or two significant problems in his or her interactions. The number of problems addressed is deliberately limited to one or two for the whole course of treatment. The result is an intense focus on how to make the necessary adjustments in interpersonal situations that will help reduce symptoms of depression.

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