Interpersonal psychotherapy (also known as IPT or interpersonal therapy) is an accepted model of treatment for depression. It addresses many aspects of the condition, such as depression related to pregnancy and postpartum periods as well as depression in children, adolescents, and adults.
Professionals initially thought that only trained psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists would practice interpersonal psychotherapy. Yet, even nonprofessionals can learn the principles and methods of this useful approach.
The History of Interpersonal Psychotherapy
Gerald Klerman, Eugene Paykel, and Myrna Weissman first developed interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) at Yale University in the 1970s. They were investigating the effectiveness of treating depression using the tricyclic antidepressant medication in conjunction with psychotherapy.
The studies admittedly had some limitations, and foremost among them was the fact that the numbers of control subjects were too small. There was also no follow-up on cases where the study participants relapsed.
Since then, research on IPT has advanced by leaps and bounds. Researchers had to establish the relationship between medication and psychotherapy, isolate IPT as a treatment method, and compare the use of IPT with cases where the participants used antidepressant medications alone without the therapy.
Researchers found that the combination of IPT and medication provided the best outcomes for participants. Professionals also use IPT to treat depression without medication, which may make it a desirable treatment for people who are anxious about developing a dependence on drugs.
Principles of IPT
One of the main principles of interpersonal psychotherapy is that depression does not exist in a vacuum. There are causes behind the condition. Depression may be chemical in nature (such as cases of postpartum depression), societal (such as cases of people being bullied or rejected), genetic, or environmental, or a combination of these factors.
In some cases, drug and alcohol abuse can also cause or intensify depression. If people struggle with substance abuse and depression, they may have a condition known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring condition. Often, it is very difficult to determine where an addiction ends and where a mental illness starts.
Using IPT, therapists help their clients explore core issues that may have triggered their depressive states. According to this approach, once clients deal with their issues, their depression will go away.
The Three Parts of Depression
According to the IPT model, the onset of depression can be divided into three parts:
Your personality – Some people are predisposed to depression due to their personalities. The IPT model attempts to predict clients’ risk potentials through their behavioral patterns.
Your interpersonal and social life – Relationships cultivated by clients will have a large impact on their mindsets. Betrayal, rejection, and isolation are some common contributors to depression.
Symptoms of the condition – There are red flags that may indicate if clients are at risk of developing depression. Symptoms of depression may include prolonged anxiety, the inability to feel pleasure, a lack of interest in life, fatigue, confusion, isolation, negative mindsets, sleeping disturbances, and suicidal thoughts.
There are two major principles of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT):
The first principle is that depression is a medical illness. It is not the clients’ fault or the result of any moral abnormalities. Because depression is a medical illness, it is treatable with the right treatment models, such as interpersonal psychotherapy.
The second principle is that depression is closely linked with the individual’s status in life. Like many medical conditions, there are causes and effects of depression. Addressing interpersonal relationships that may contribute to depression may dramatically increase the effectiveness of treatment.
How Does IPT Treat Depression?
With the right training, nonprofessionals can use IPT techniques. That is because IPT utilizes a series of steps that people may measure and benchmark after each stage. You can predict success or failure through different metrics:
The Formulation Phase
Essentially, this is an assessment phase where therapists and patients try to determine the underlying causes of depression. This phase may be difficult because it delves into individuals’ histories. There may be some resistance during this time.
The Acceptance Phase
This is still part of the formulation phase but the clients provide their full support. They will work with their therapists to study their major interpersonal problems and develop treatment plans.
Among the goals during the second phase are:
Catharsis (the release of emotions)
Addressing interpersonal tension or disagreements
Creation of new interpersonal connections
Therapists and clients have addressed issues thoroughly in this phase, so depression symptoms are no longer a concern.
“How Are You Since the Last Session?”
Therapists may greet clients with this question. It may help people practice introspection, so they will be connected to their feelings before attending their next therapy session. If clients have positive responses to the question, their therapists may provide positive reinforcement.
Clients and therapists explore what the individuals did to warrant certain results. If clients do not show progress, their therapists may go back to the beginning to explore interpersonal connections and other conditions that may have triggered depression.
IPT Is Not a Magic Bullet
However, interpersonal psychotherapy is not a magic bullet that can automatically cure depression.
The mind is such a complicated organ that even with advances in medical research, we have yet to scratch the surface of its capabilities. When we have more information, therapists will be able to explore other treatment protocols to help clients.
Therapists should emphasize that if interpersonal psychotherapy does not alleviate depression, it is not a reflection on their clients. Yet, this approach does work for many, as there are many documented cases that have proved the efficacy of IPT when used in conjunction with antidepressants. Such success should warrant the continued use of IPT for depression.
For depression and other mental illnesses caused by drug and alcohol addiction, different treatment alternatives have helped countless people all across the United States and all over the world.