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What is IPT (Interpersonal Psychotherapy)

interpersonal psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a short-term (16 to 20 sessions) therapy that emphasizes the role of interpersonal issues and relationships. The focus therapy is on interpersonal issues that seem to be most important in the onset and/or maintenance of psychological distress. Usually, these involve a recent transition (e.g., divorce, marriage, break-up, moving, job loss, starting school), a dispute (e.g., marital problems, difficulties at work, family problems, difficulties with friends), a recent loss (e.g., miscarriage, death, illness) or negative interpersonal patterns. The first 1-3 sessions of IPT are devoted to the assessment and identification of your specific interpersonal stressors.

When should you consider IPT?

IPT is a time-sensitive treatment, normally delivered over a period of 16 to 20 sessions. The theory behind IPT is that the interpersonal relationships we develop throughout our lives vastly impact our emotions and our mental and physical health.

Some of the reasons that patients begin IPT include:

  • Job loss
  • New job
  • Divorce
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Death in the family
  • Pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • Moving homes
  • Starting school

Essentially any change in your life, which alters your current social situation and causes you mental distress as a side effect, is cause for considering interpersonal psychotherapy treatment.

What to Expect at Your IPT Sessions

Before you begin IPT, our therapist may request that you create a list of your life areas where you feel distressed or tension. This helps us determine which interpersonal relationships are triggers for these emotions.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Are there any specific interpersonal situations that cause changes to my mood?
  • Are these recurring symptoms, or do they come and go?
  • How long have I been experiencing interpersonal stress or depression?
  • Do these interpersonal issues affect my work, home, family, and romantic life? If so, to what degree?
  • Are my interpersonal symptoms related to feelings of grief, loss, or change?

The first 1 to 3 sessions of your treatment are then dedicated to assessing these triggers and developing coping mechanisms for handling the interpersonal stress you feel during the day to day life.

As your treatment continues, sessions will begin to focus on problem resolution throughout interpersonal relationship issues. This process will be unique to your personal needs and situation. At the Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre, we know no two people are exactly alike. We customize your sessions to meet you where you are in your Interpersonal Psychotherapy journey.

The Four Focuses of Interpersonal Psychotherapy

IPT spans a wide assortment of mental stressors and interpersonal problems, including depression, mood problems, and sleep disorders. Within the realm of interpersonal psychotherapy, there are additional subcategories that further distinguish coping strategies for individual therapies.

The four major areas of focus in Interpersonal Psychotherapy are:

  • Transition: Transitioning between roles, whether in your personal or work life, can be difficult. Change is not always easy, and the stress you feel during these transitions can transfer into your mental and physical wellbeing. Transitions can be small things like changing your role at work or big things like a break-up or moving to a new town.
  • Grief: Grief is a significant area of interpersonal trauma because not only is there change, there is also loss. Losing a loved one impacts emotions, ability to work, energy levels, sleep patterns, and social interaction with others. The impact of grief may also extend into work, making the financial loss a problem. Grief is not only an emotion associated with the death of a loved one. Grief is experienced for many reasons like divorce, infertility, or the loss of a sense or limb.
  • Interpersonal Patterns: Sometimes, negative interpersonal relationships create interpersonal patterns. Some patterns are caused by anger, arguments, or upset; others are caused by a communication breakdown. Analyzing communication methods, stress coping techniques, and problem-solving can reduce stress and negativity in interpersonal relationships.
  • Role Disputes: The roles we hold within our personal relationships can be linked to a sense of self and sometimes self-worth. This includes the role of parent, child, sibling, spouse, guardian, friend, and co-worker. When there are disputes within these interpersonal roles, it results in conflict, emotional distress, and the breakdown of relationships.

Within each of these subcategories, there is a further division between causes, symptoms, and resolution methods. Your plan of action will depend on how individual elements of your interpersonal relationships affect your life.

How IPT Can Improve Work and Social Life

IPT can be used to treat multiple psychological issues in both adults and adolescents, including stress, conflict within relationships, eating disorders, and depression. Sometimes IPT is combined with other treatments to help improve mental and physical wellness. Your psychotherapy sessions will provide you with the skills and tools necessary to change negative thoughts and emotions into positive experiences long after your treatment has ended. This helps you be a better communicator, leader and improves confidence in interpersonal situations.

The research and results behind IPT have proven it effective in treating many mental health disorders. As your abilities to handle interpersonal strengths, you will notice a significant difference in how you think and feel emotionally and physically.

Why choose CITC for Interpersonal Psychotherapy?

With longstanding success within the world of cognitive and interpersonal therapy, CITC has been serving Ontario for many years. With intensive training in various aspects of psychotherapy, our team of experienced therapists are consistently following new information and research to supply the newest and best therapeutic practices to our clients.

Interpersonal relationships are a major part of human life. From work to home and beyond, the relationships in your life dictate the events you partake in, the activities you enjoy, the place you work, and much more. When there is turmoil within these relationships, or yourself concerning your relationships, other areas of your life suffer the consequences. This also impacts mental and physical wellbeing.

Working with a psychotherapist at the Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre provides the skills and support you need to manage your interpersonal relationships and reach emotional and mental goals. By developing the tools needed to self-solve these problems, you can move forward in life confident in any given situation.

Contact the Cognitive & Interpersonal Therapy Centre

Remember, you are never alone. For more information on IPT, we invite you to contact CITC. You can reach out through our online contact page or by calling 1-416-570-5050.

Adapatations of IPT

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) was initially developed for the treatment of adult depression. It has now been adapted for many different issues and ages, and is a recognized treatment by the World Health Organization.


Interpersonal psychotherapy for adolescents (IPT-A) is a short-term individual psychotherapy for adolescents ages 13–18 who are suffering from depressed mood. IPT-A focuses on how relationships impact mood and how mood impacts relationships. 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 aims to help adolescents improve their communication and problem-solving skills, better cope with change, develop resilience, and increase social supports.

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IPT Focus Grief

Grief is chosen as the IPT focus area when psychological distress is associated with the death of a person close to you. Grief can also be conceptualized more broadly as other losses in your life, such as loss of a relationship, loss of physical health, infertility, anticipatory grief of another’s or of one’s own death. The goal of grief as the focus area is to help you work through the phases of loss and to help you come to a resolution of your grief. Working through grief not only means fully exploring and understanding your grief reaction, but also communicating that experience to others and developing a social support network.

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Role Disputes

Role Dispute is chosen as the IPT focus area when psychological distress is associated with conflict in one or more of your relationships (i.e., spouse, parent, children, friends, co-workers). Goals in therapy include staging the dispute, improving communication, and choosing an action plan. Staging the dispute involves helping you figure out if there are ongoing attempts to bring out changes in the relationship, or if those attempts are at an impasse or if the relationship is beyond repair. IPT helps you to improve your communication, negotiate your role expectations, or transition towards a termination of the relationship.

Your therapist will help you evaluate important aspects of your relationship including: How was your relationship prior to the difficulties? What changed in the relationship? What are the issues in the dispute? What are your expectations about the relationship? What are the other person’s expectations about the relationship? What do you wish would change in the relationship? What stops you from resolving the issues?

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Role Transition is chosen as the IPT focus area when psychological distress is associated with difficulty coping with changes in your current life circumstances. Role transitions may occur in many domains including employment, relationship status, physical health, living conditions, socioeconomic status, etc. Sometimes even positive changes in one’s life (marriage, parenthood, moving, job change) can be associated with negative feelings. The therapist will help you to better adjust to these changes and gain mastery in your new role

Indications of a Role Transition

  1. An important clue that transition should be the focus in therapy is if some kind of change occurred just prior or after the start of increased levels of stress or any difficulties with your mood.
  2. Remember that a change does not have to be negative. Any significant change that you have experienced can be related to low mood or distress. What is important is how you are adjusting to the change.
  3. Your social support system is important, as having a strong social network may help you better cope with changes in your life.

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Interpersonal sensitivity is chosen as the IPT focus area when there is no clear interpersonal or life stressor associated with psychological distress and you describe long standing patterns of poor interpersonal relationships that are affecting your mood. Your therapist will help you examine your interpersonal patterns and help you see if there are specific changes you can make to the ways in which you interact and communicate with others.

Examples of Interpersonal Sensitivity

  • Difficulty in initiating relationships
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty expressing one’s feelings within relationships
  • Difficulties communicating one’s needs
  • Lack of social support/social withdrawal

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