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Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

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What Kind of Adjustments Might Be Made Through IPT to Resolve Interpersonal Issues?

With issues involving interpersonal disputes, the therapist works with the patient to define how serious the issue has become in terms of how difficult it is to move beyond it. For instance, there might be a dispute between husband and wife that stems from the wife's attempts to be more independent. The therapist would lead the patient, in this case the husband, in an effort to discover the sources of misunderstanding. Then the therapist might use problem-solving approaches, communication training, or some other technique to enable the patient to resolve the conflict in a way that doesn't worsen the symptoms of depression.

In role transition issues, the therapist helps the patient determine the differences between the old and the new roles. Then together they would focus on identifying exactly what is causing the difficulties and work to find a solution for the problem.

For issues involving grief, the therapist facilitates the grieving process to help the patient move beyond it. Two important techniques used to do this are:

  • Empathetic listening, which provides support and a safe outlet for the patient's feelings
  • Clarification, which is a technique for helping the patient examine his or her own misconceptions about the situation

With interpersonal deficits, the therapist will work with the patient to explore past relationships or the current relationship the patient has with the therapist. The goal is to identify patterns, such as excess dependency or hostility, that interfere with forming and maintaining good relationships. Once those patterns are distinguished, the focus turns to modifying them. Then, with the therapist's guidance and assistance, the patient is urged to make new relationships and to apply the therapeutic adjustments that have been made.

As the sessions progress, the therapist gradually lessens his or her level of intervention. The goal is for the patient to self-intervene more and make more of his or her own adjustments. This becomes easier as time goes on, and the patient's ability to self-intervene continues to improve after the sessions end, often not peaking until three to six months after therapy is over.

What Is the Process for Interpersonal Therapy?

Interpersonal therapy typically takes place in one-hour sessions, usually weekly, that continue for 12 to 16 weeks. Depending on the severity of the depression, sessions might be continued for an additional four or more weeks.

If you were being treated for depression with interpersonal therapy, the first few sessions, usually from one to three weeks, would be used for assessing your depression, orienting you to the IPT focus and process, and identifying specific interpersonal issues or problems you have. Together, you and the therapist would create a record of your interpersonal issues, rank them, and decide which one or two issues seemed most important to address in terms of your depression.

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