Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

What is Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)?

Woman with anxiety and going through Interpersonal PsychotherapyInterpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a method that connects the interpersonal context as and the fundamentals of building interpersonal skills.  IPT is founded on the idea that interpersonal factors may be associated with psychological problems; thus it is typically differentiated from other facets of therapy in its focus on personal/relational practices as opposed to other psychic procedures.

Interpersonal psychotherapy originates from the interpersonal psychoanalysis work of Harry Stack Sullivan, a United States based psychiatrist who was strongly influenced by the ideas correlated with sociology and social psychology.  IPT was initially developed as a placebo for use in psychotherapy research by Gerald Klerman, and was later progressed into an outpatient treatment for depression in the 1970s.

IPT focuses on altering an individual’s interpersonal behavior by encouraging adaptation to interpersonal circumstances.  IPT mediates at the levels of symptom development and social performance and refrains from attempting to modify aspects of the individual’s personality.

Since IPT is a relatively short-term approach, the therapist will concentrate on one to two problem areas in the existing functioning behaviors of the patient.  Earlier sessions are generally designed for the therapist and patient to conclude upon which areas would be most beneficial in decreasing the patient’s symptoms.

Remaining sessions are then geared toward working through these problem areas.  IPT therapists are characterized by this time-limited framework, and this approach distinguishes them from alternate therapies that are open-ended in their investigation.  This targeted method of IPT has been shown to create rapid improvement for patients with a variety of issues, including depression and eating disorders.

Types of IPT Techniques

Types of IPT Techniques include:

  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: Primary focus of this technique is to reveal the unconscious content of a client’s psyche in effort to alleviate tension
  • Contemporary Cognitive Behavioral Approaches: Integration of methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Components of Interpersonal Psychotherapy

The Components of Interpersonal Psychotherapy were created to manage four basic interpersonal problem areas, which include:

  • Role Disputes
  • Role Transitions
  • Unresolved Grief
  • Interpersonal Deficits

Therapy is typically planned and organized to assist the patient in dealing with the interpersonal difficulties in one of these principal problem areas.

Uses of IPT

Although IPT was originally designed as an individual therapy for adults, it has since been modified for applicability with adolescents and older adults.  IPT can also be an efficient tool in the recovery process for an eating disorder sufferer in that it addresses underlying personal issues, targets underlying factors that may be fueling an eating disorder, and encourages the application of strategies for relationship improvement.

Throughout the duration of therapy sessions, individuals suffering from eating disorders are guided in learning how to better cope with the tension and anxiety that often outcomes from poor interpersonal interactions, as well as fortify greater self-esteem.  For the treatment of eating disorders, IPT is likely to be combined with other forms of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in conjunction with the overall treatment plan for recovery.

Research studies have advocated the use of IPT in treating mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. IPT has also been adapted for the treatment of various disorders, including substance abuse, bipolar disorder, post-partum depression, and cyclothymia, social phobias, panic disorders and agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Find qualified eating disorder treatment centers in our directory listings.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012

Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on, Help For Eating Disorders