Depression Treatment: Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)


The Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) approach to relieving depression and preventing relapse is based on the idea that depression is best understood in the context of social and interpersonal events. The word “interpersonal” is used to describe relationships or communications between two or more people. The primary goal of IPT is to understand the link between a person’s depression and their interpersonal life; that is, how depressive symptoms affect interpersonal relationships and how interpersonal events can generate depressive symptoms. 

How does IPT work?

IPT begins with an explanation of two basic principles: 

  1. Depression is a medical illness that can be treated like any other medical condition
  2. Depression is related to recent events (Bleiberg & Markowitz, 2008). 

There are four potential areas of focus in IPT therapy and the specific strategies used depend on which problem areas are selected (Weissman, Markowitz, & Klerman, 2000).    The four areas include:

  • Grief. Relevant following  the death of a significant other. Therapy involves facilitating the mourning process and establishing new relationships. 
  • Role disputes. Releveant when a client and a significant other disagree on what they expect from each other.  In IPT, clients with role disputes are invited to define the primary conflict, identify an appropriate course of action, and modify their behaviors and/or expectations accordingly. 
  • Role transitions. Relevant when someone is having significant difficulty adapting to a new environment..  Treatment strategies include disconnecting from and grieving the old environment, learning new skills if necessary, establishing new relationships, and highlighting positive aspects of the new environment.  
  • Interpersonal deficits. Relevant when people have consistent difficulties with relationships that contribute to someone having a little or no social network.  Although it is likely that clients with interpersonal deficits have impaired social skills and feel uncomfortable in social situations, the IPT therapist emphasizes that a lack of social support, rather than a lack of social skills, is the primary contributor to depression.