Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on the interpersonal rather than on the intrapsychic (or internal psychological processes) as other forms of therapy do. The basis for this is the idea that interpersonal factors can largely contribute to psychological problems. IPT focuses on building interpersonal skills and interpersonal context. This therapy stems from the work of Harry Stack Sullivan who was influenced largely by the ideas of sociology or social psychology.
IPT was developed originally as a placebo for psychotherapy research, but it was later found to be an effective treatment. In the 1970s and 80s it was developed into a treatment for depression. At first, it was used only for adults. Later, it was revised and used to treat adolescents. Its use has grown to include many other disorders such as bipolar disorder and bulimia.
IPT is structured from both CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and psychodynamic psychotherapy. It is a time-limited approach which includes homework, structured interviews, and assessments. The initial stages include diagnosis, inventories, identification of problem areas, and the treatment contract.
The next stages focus on resolving the identified problem areas. Four major problem areas are often: grief, where the client may present distorted or delayed grief reactions; role dispute, where the client has expectations about a relationship that the other party does not reciprocate; role transition, where the client is in the process of giving up one role and taking on a new one; and interpersonal deficits.
In the final stage of IPT, there is a discussion about which areas still require work. The client and therapist discuss relapse prevention and process emotions related to the ending of therapy.