Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a type of therapy that helps people with mental health problems to address issues with their behaviour towards family, friends and colleagues.

While IPT is primarily designed for Depression, it can also be used for other conditions. It revolves around the idea that a person’s mood is impacted by relationships with others, and vice versa.

Therefore, by improving a person’s relationships with others, it should ease their psychological suffering. A range of techniques are used to achieve this.

The Science Behind Interpersonal Therapy

IPT works on the premise that a person’s depression will have a big effect on their relationships with others. Because a person is depressed, they may struggle with their connections e.g. friends and family.

As a result, they become more depressed, and so this harmful cycle continues. IPT attempts to help an individual communicate better with others, and overcome any problems that links to psychological disturbance.

The whole therapy centres on the impact between mood and relationships. A therapist will use a range of techniques to achieve an improvement in symptoms.

How Does Interpersonal Therapy Work?

IPT is heavily structured, and usually follows a strict schedule that lasts 12-20 sessions, each typically an hour long. Some variations exist however.

To begin with, a therapist and the patient will identify certain problems, and plan on how they will be improved. IPT focuses on the present day, and particular problems.

However, a history of the patient is normally conducted, as the therapist will seek out certain moments that have contributed to an individual’s problems.

IPT is very goal-oriented, the patient will set goals based on their current situation, and look to put these plans into place.

Over the course of the IPT process, they will hopefully see a vast improvement in their relationship with others, and the subsequent improvement in mood.

A patient will need to actively try and achieve the goals when away from therapy. While the therapist offers guidance throughout, the onus is on the patient to actively make the changes discussed.

Commitment to IPT is therefore very important. Most people find that IPT helps a lot, and leaves them in an improved state. While relapse is possible, the skills taught in IPT usually equip a person with the ability to avoid any such problem.

When is Interpersonal Therapy Useful?

IPT is predominantly focused on the present day. While past moments that have contributed to a person’s problems will be acknowledged, the therapy is mostly focused on present-day problems.

Therefore, anyone who has deep-seated issues or past traumas to overcome will probably not find any relief from IPT. Conversely, many people find IPT helps them improve their relationships with others, leading to a good effect on mood.

IPT was originally designed for Depression – and is a good treatment for this. It is one of the NHS’s primary treatment types for depression.

Aside from Depression, IPT can be useful in conditions like Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders and Substance-Related Disorders.

IPT can feasibly help with any mental health condition, though it is dependent on the circumstances of each person. IPT is not a one-size fits all therapy.

How effective is Interpersonal Therapy?

IPT has plenty of studies that praise its effectiveness – it is widely seen as one of the best treatments for many conditions.

A 1998 study found that IPT worked for Depression, Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder [1]. IPT hasn’t been extensively researched in regards to its effectiveness for other conditions.

A meta-analysis in 2011 that took into account a large range of studies into IPT found that it was very effective for Depression, and that it deserved to be one of the first-line treatments [2].

Medical guidelines used in the United Kingdom suggest that IPT is just as effective as antidepressant medications for Depression. When combined with medication, IPT can be very useful in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder [3].

It seems that IPT is indeed useful for many people, though for people with deep-seated issues such as past traumas, it has limited efficacy. While many people will find their symptoms lessen due to IPT, it isn’t for everyone.

How to find a therapist?

It is recommended that you contact your GP and inform them of your problems. They will refer you to the relevant mental health team.

If you are aiming to use the private sector, you could ask your GP or someone you know for a recommendation. You can also look online – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have a therapist directory on their site.

See Also


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[1] Weissman, M. M., & Markowitz, J. C. (1998). An Overview of Interpersonal Psychotherapy. In: Markowitz, J. C Interpersonal Psychotherapy. London: American Psychiatric Press. p1-33.

[2] Cuijpers, P., Geraedts, A., van Oppen, P., Andersson, G., Markowitz, M., & van Straten, A. (2011). Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression: A Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 168 (6), p581-592.

[3] Colom, F., & Vieta, E. (2004). A perspective on the use of psychoeducation, cognitive‐behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy for bipolar patients. Bipolar Disorders. 6 (6), p480-486.