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IPT for Adolescents

Watching your child struggle at any age is not easy. This is especially true for parents with a teenager suffering from mood and interpersonal issues.

At the Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre, we work with people of all ages who deal with a wide range of psychological issues, including stress, anxiety, mood swings, PTSD, ADHD, depression, and more. One of the treatments we use to help patients is interpersonal psychotherapy or IPT.

IPT is a common non-prescription approach to managing symptoms of psychological distress. For families hoping to take a natural route in alleviating social stressors and other triggers, interpersonal psychotherapy for adolescents has a high success rate.

Here, we will discuss the definition of IPT, how the process works, and what you can expect to gain from your experience with your psychotherapist.

What is interpersonal psychotherapy?

As the name suggests, interpersonal psychotherapy revolves around our interpersonal relationships and how they impact our everyday lives. For young adults, especially, social relationships play a significant role in self-esteem, self-worth, and an overall sense of self. IPT teaches young adults adaptive coping strategies to alleviate stress in current relationships and learn to communicate more effectively in the future.

Interpersonal psychotherapy for adolescents (IPT-A) is a short-term (12-16 sessions) individual psychotherapy for adolescents ages 13–18 who suffer from depressed mood. While IPT recognizes the role of genetic, biological, and personality in depression, the focus of therapy is on how relationships impact mood and how mood impacts relationships. Research has shown IPT-A to be effective as a type of treatment for mild to moderate adolescent depression. Adolescents treated with IPT-A demonstrate fewer depressive symptoms and better social and global functioning post-treatment.

The skills learned through interpersonal psychotherapy are lifelong lessons, which have proven successful as a treatment for stress, depression, and anxiety caused by interpersonal relationships.

Interpersonal relationships are focused on the role you play within them. An adolescent may feel pressure within a parent/child relationship and struggle as the parent observes them. Similarly, they may struggle with changes to these relationships. When a family separates or becomes newly blended with another family, changes to these family dynamics impact how teens view themselves. This drastically affects other areas of life, including school, work, home, and social activities.

IPT Goals

The goals of IPT-A are to help adolescents recognize their feelings and become aware of how interpersonal stressors or conflicts affect their mood. Therapy also encourages adolescents to recognize how their mood is impacting their relationships. Therapy aims to help adolescents improve their communication and problem-solving skills, better cope with change, develop resilience, and increase social supports.

How does IPT work?

The therapist and adolescent will meet once a week for 12-16 weeks. During this time, you will cover a variety of topics. The structure and content of your IPT program is customized to your needs. As an adolescent, relationships differ from that of an adult or a child. Stressors may lie within social situations involving:

  • Peers
  • Teachers
  • Workplace Managers
  • Parents
  • Romantic Partners
  • Athletic Coaches
  • Siblings

From time to time, the therapist may also meet with parents/guardians to keep them informed of treatment gains and involved in the teen’s recovery from depression. An IPT-specific focus area is decided upon in the initial stages of therapy. Therapy is divided into three distinct phases:

Initial Phase (Sessions 1–4)

During the initial phase, the therapist meets with the teen and his/her parents to conduct an extensive assessment of their mood, relationships and interpersonal stressors. The therapist will explain to the teen the interpersonal context of their depressed mood, including the reciprocal relationship between mood and relationships. Other stressors that may be related to a teen’s depressed mood, such as significant recent changes in the teen’s life, loss, social isolation, bullying, will also be discussed. The therapist will encourage the teen to take an active role in their therapy, as well as to keep up with daily activities such as schoolwork and chores while acknowledging that performance might not be up to the same standards as prior to feeling depressed. The therapist will help the teen identify their ‘interpersonal closeness circle,’ determine the strengths and supports in the teen’s social network, and areas where communication problems may exist. By the end of the first phase, the therapist and teen will have identified a clear area of focus for treatment and goals.

Middle Phase (Sessions 5–9)

During the middle phase, the therapist and teen will work on the identified IPT-specific problem area. IPT-specific areas fall into one of four categories: grief, role disputes, transition, interpersonal sensitivity. Grief is chosen as an area of focus if a teen’s depressed mood is linked to a recent loss. Role disputes are chosen as an area of focus if a teen’s depressed mood is linked to the conflict in one or more relationships. Role transition is chosen as a focus area is a recent change in the teen’s life is linked to depressed mood. Finally, interpersonal sensitivity is chosen as a focus area if the teen’s depression has caused extreme social isolation.

The therapist and teen will work together to identify specific difficulties within the identified problem area and discuss communication and problem-solving strategies to help the teen resolve the interpersonal stressor.

Termination Phase (Sessions 10–12)

The termination phase of IPT helps the teen consolidate the learning gained from therapy sessions, specifically with regard to communication and problem-solving skills. Relapse prevention will also be discussed to help the teen prepare for the future and be better able to identify depressive symptoms and identify interpersonal stressors that may negatively affect mood. The therapist, teen, and parent will also review together whether additional treatment is recommended and how the parent can continue to support the teen’s use of these newly learned skills.

Is IPT right for your teenager?

The Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre understands that every teenager is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

If your teenager has developed feelings of unease in social situations, depression stemming from relationships with others, a lack of motivation at work or school, mood swings when faced with family events, or any other psychological reactions to interpersonal relationships, IPT could be the solution.

IPT offers various benefits outside of the ability to communicate better in social situations and manage interpersonal relationships. Those who undergo this therapy often describe an increase in self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Learning to understand your emotions, sort through them to find a solution, and use them to successfully change negative feelings into positive ones is a life skill that will help your adolescent long into adult life.

Contact the Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre

If you are an adolescent, or a parent of an adolescent looking for help managing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or stress-related to social structure, self-esteem, or communication, we can help. The Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre is proud to help you find positive and lasting solutions to psychological ailments.

Working closely with your IPT psychologist, you will develop skills and coping mechanisms to better acknowledge and manage emotions in any given situation.

For more information on interpersonal psychotherapy, we invite you to contact the Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre at 1416-570-1501 or visit our online contact page here.

Click on the link to book a session with one of our team members.

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