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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? continued...

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.

At least the next eight sessions would be focused on addressing those issues -- understanding them more, looking for adjustments that you can make, and then applying those adjustments. Throughout this portion of the therapy, the therapist would use a number of different techniques, including among others:

  • Clarification, which has the purpose of helping you recognize and get beyond your own biases in understanding and describing your interpersonal issues.
  • Supportive listening.
  • Role playing.
  • Communication analysis.
  • Encouragement of affect, which is a process that will let you experience unpleasant or unwanted feelings and emotions surrounding your interpersonal issues in a safe therapeutic environment. When you do, it becomes easier to accept those feelings and emotions as part of your experience.
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