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What Is Interpersonal Psychotherapy? A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

What Is Interpersonal Psychotherapy? A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

Besides from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the other form of psychotherapy that I have heard tons about is interpersonal psychotherapy. Personally, from what I have actually learnt about the therapy during my lectures, I prefer CBT to Interpersonal, but now I want to learn more. Therefore, in this clinical psychology podcast episode, you’ll learn what is interpersonal psychotherapy, how does it work amongst other fascinating topics. If you enjoy learning about psychotherapy, clinical psychology and mental health then this is a great episode for you.

Today’s psychology podcast episode has been sponsored by Psychology Of Relationships: The Social Psychology Of Friendships, Romantic Relationships And More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also available as an AI-narrated audiobook from selected audiobook platforms and library systems. For example, Kobo, Spotify, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and Bibliotheca.

What Is Interpersonal Psychotherapy?

Interpersonal Psychotherapy is a focused, time-limited and evidence-based form of psychological therapy that is specifically designed to treat mood disorders. For example, depression and bipolar disorder. Since the main goal of this therapy is to improve the quality of a client’s social functioning as well as their interpersonal relationships because this helps to reduce their psychological distress.

In addition, Interpersonal Psychotherapy uses four main strategies to help a client resolve their mental health difficulties. Firstly, Interpersonal Psychotherapy helps a client to manage any unresolved grief they have. Secondly, Interpersonal Psychotherapy addresses any interpersonal deficit a client has, like their involvement in unfulfilling social relationships and social isolation. Thirdly, this therapy can be useful for helping a client deal with a tough life transition like a major move, divorce or retirement. Finally, Interpersonal Psychotherapy is generally recommended for clients dealing with interpersonal disputes that come from conflicting expectations. For example, the expectations from family members, partners, close friends as well as coworkers.

How Does Interpersonal Psychotherapy Work?

The therapy was developed over 20 years ago as a treatment option for Major Depression and in recent years, the therapy has gained popularity. Since therapists that use Interpersonal Psychotherapy believe that a change in a client’s social environment is a key factor in the onset of depression as well as a maintaining factor.

Furthermore, whilst the therapy was originally designed for adults, it has been modified so it can be effectively used for elderly and adolescent clients too.

Also, the therapy first appeared in the literature as part of a study looking at the effectiveness of anti-depressants and it was found to be just as effective as medication.

Personally, I really like that Interpersonal Psychotherapy acknowledges the “triggering event” in all but name when it comes to depression. Since I know and fully acknowledge that the Diathesis-Stress model is not perfect at all, but I like the model because it’s useful for explaining how a stressful life event can trigger depression. Interpersonal Psychotherapy takes that explanation to a practical level.

In addition, Interpersonal Psychotherapy doesn’t really focus on past relationships or the past in general, compared to other psychodynamic approaches. Instead Interpersonal Psychotherapy draws on internal conflicts without making them the focus of the therapy. So there are some similarities between Interpersonal Psychotherapy and psychodynamic approaches but it is more of an off-shoot of that old approach rather than a sibling therapy.

Equally, Interpersonal Psychotherapy is different from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and similar approaches because whilst Interpersonal Psychotherapy does focus and deal with maladaptive behaviours and thoughts, it only does this if the maladaptive behaviours and thoughts apply to interpersonal relationships.

As a result of Interpersonal Psychotherapy is trying to change the client’s relationship patterns instead of the associated depressive symptoms and it targets the relationship difficulties that end up making these depressive symptoms more severe and common.

Overall, Interpersonal Psychotherapy is less directive than cognitive behavioural therapy because whilst the therapy focuses on the client’s specific problem areas without focusing on their personality traits.

Personally, something I do like about Interpersonal Psychotherapy is that it takes the “best” pieces from two completely different approaches to mental health and it combines them rather seamlessly. Therefore, clients can benefit from the insights gained from the internal conflicts idea from psychodynamic approaches and the targeting of maladaptive behaviours and thoughts from cognitive behavioural approaches without having to pull along and deal with the other facets of the two approaches.

I like how this therapy knows it has to deal with interpersonal relationships and that is all it does. I almost admire that sort of focus.

What Can A Client Expect From Interpersonal Psychotherapy?

Similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy can be done as part of individual or group therapy sessions over 12 to 16 weeks. As well as this therapy makes use of homework, interviews and continuous assessment by the therapist being done over a number of phases.

Before I talk about the different phases, group and individual sessions of Interpersonal Psychotherapy work in similar ways. Since group sessions are semi-structured, time-limited and they focus on interpersonal dynamics. Whereas unlike the individual sessions, group therapy sessions offer clients more opportunities to practice their interpersonal skills in a safe and supportive environment. As well as group sessions typically include pre-, mid- and post-treatment meetings individually with the therapist to review the client’s progress, goals and strategies.

I have to admit that I don’t typically think too much about group session therapies, because I know they are useful but I haven’t really seen them as extremely useful compared to individual sessions. Yet I think group sessions are brilliant for Interpersonal Psychotherapy because the entire point of this therapy is to improve social skills, and you really can’t practice social skills to a large extent if it is only the client and the therapist. So it’s really good that group therapy sessions are used a lot in Interpersonal Psychotherapy if a client wants it.

Moreover, the first phase of Interpersonal Psychotherapy typically involves one to three sessions where the therapist assesses the client’s depressive symptoms, close relationships, social history as well as any changes in relationship expectations or patterns. Afterwards, the therapist works with the client to implement a treatment plan specific to any “problem” areas that they’ve identified with the client.

Then over time as the treatment continues and progresses, the targeted problem area will hopefully change.

Furthermore, it’s good to be aware here that like most other psychotherapies, Interpersonal Psychotherapy changes as a client goes through it. Since a therapist’s recommended strategies might change as the client’s problem area improves.

When Is Interpersonal Psychotherapy Used?

As I mentioned earlier, Interpersonal Psychotherapy was originally developed as a treatment for depression but in the past few decades, it is being effectively used to treat a wide range of other mental health conditions. For example, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, dysthymia, perinatal depression as well as other mood disorders.

Clinical Psychology Conclusion

At the end of this slightly shorter podcast episode, I have to admit that I am really glad that we’ve learnt about Interpersonal Psychotherapy because it is a very useful and interesting therapy targeting interpersonal skills and social functioning. And if a client has a mental health condition that is being maintained or caused by a lack of “good” interpersonal skills then this could be a great option for them.

And I am still really pleased that it draws on different approaches to mental health, because I fully believe that no one approach holds all the answers and it is only by combining the best pieces of different approaches that we’ll be able to help our clients to the best of our abilities amongst the other attributes that makes an effective therapist but you get my point. Never think you need to be boxed into only using a single approach or therapy, because part the fun of psychotherapy is there are always more interesting, exciting, fascinating concepts and techniques to learn.


I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Psychology Of Relationships: The Social Psychology Of Friendships, Romantic Relationships And More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also available as an AI-narrated audiobook from selected audiobook platforms and library systems. For example, Kobo, Spotify, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and Bibliotheca.

Have a great day.

Clinical Psychology References and Recommended Reading

Cuijpers, P., Donker, T., Weissman, M. M., Ravitz, P., & Cristea, I. A. (2016). Interpersonal psychotherapy for mental health problems: a comprehensive meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 173(7), 680-687.

Heisel, M. J., Talbot, N. L., King, D. A., Tu, X. M., & Duberstein, P. R. (2015). Adapting interpersonal psychotherapy for older adults at risk for suicide. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23(1), 87-98.

Huibers, M. J., Cohen, Z. D., Lemmens, L. H., Arntz, A., Peeters, F. P., Cuijpers, P., & DeRubeis, R. J. (2015). Predicting optimal outcomes in cognitive therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed individuals using the personalized advantage index approach. PloS one, 10(11), e0140771.

Klerman, G. L., & Weissman, M. M. (1994). Interpersonal psychotherapy of depression: A brief, focused, specific strategy. Jason Aronson, Incorporated.

Lemmens, L. H. J. M., Arntz, A., Peeters, F. P. M. L., Hollon, S. D., Roefs, A., & Huibers, M. J. H. (2015). Clinical effectiveness of cognitive therapy v. interpersonal psychotherapy for depression: results of a randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 45(10), 2095-2110.

Lemmens, L. H., Galindo-Garre, F., Arntz, A., Peeters, F., Hollon, S. D., DeRubeis, R. J., & Huibers, M. J. (2017). Exploring mechanisms of change in cognitive therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy for adult depression. Behaviour research and therapy, 94, 81-92.

Markowitz, J. C., Petkova, E., Neria, Y., Van Meter, P. E., Zhao, Y., Hembree, E., ... & Marshall, R. D. (2015). Is exposure necessary? A randomized clinical trial of interpersonal psychotherapy for PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 172(5), 430-440.

Sockol, L. E. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of interpersonal psychotherapy for perinatal women. Journal of affective disorders, 232, 316-328.

Weissman, M. M., Markowitz, J. C., & Klerman, G. L. (2017). The guide to interpersonal psychotherapy: updated and expanded edition. Oxford University Press.

Wilfley, Denise E., & Shore, Allison L. (2015). Interpersonal Psychotherapy. In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 631-636).

Wurm, C, Robertson, M, & Rushton, P. (2008). Interpersonal psychotherapy: An overview. Psychotherapy in Australia, 14(3), 46-54.

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