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Interpersonal Therapy: Everything You Need to Know

Learn more about the benefits of interpersonal therapy and if it’s the right treatment option for you here.

What is Interpersonal Therapy?

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on a person’s relationships with others. The main goal is to improve the quality of these relationships. This, in turn, can help resolve various mental health challenges.

There are several foundational beliefs that guide the therapeutic process, including:
  • Interpersonal focus: IPT revolves around the idea that most emotional problems arise from or affect interpersonal relationships.
  • Time-limited: Unlike some other therapies, IPT is time-bound. It often spans 12 to 16 weeks. This time frame encourages focus and ensures targeted therapeutic work.
  • Here and now: While past relationships and events are considered, IPT emphasizes current interpersonal conflicts and challenges. This approach makes the therapy relatable and actionable.
Interpersonal Therapy

Table of Contents

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The Importance of Relationships

Relationships are at the epicenter of interpersonal therapy. IPT believes the quality of someone’s relationships influences their mental well-being. For instance, a strained relationship can lead to sadness, while a supportive one can foster happiness.
Relationships also often reflect personal challenges. For instance, if someone struggles with self-worth, this may manifest in how they interact with others.

The Structured Nature of IPT

Interpersonal therapy follows a structured approach. The initial sessions are about understanding the key interpersonal issues the patient faces. It’s a phase of assessment and goal setting.
The middle stage is the work phase. Here, the patient and the therapist address the identified issues. They use various techniques to foster better relationships and communication.
The last few sessions are a wrap-up. They reflect on the progress made and ensure patients are equipped to maintain the gains outside the therapy room.

Comparing Interpersonal Therapy with Other Psychotherapies

Therapy methods are diverse, catering to different needs and conditions. Here’s how Interpersonal Therapy compares with other major psychotherapies:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on the interplay between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It teaches patients to identify and change negative thought patterns to alter behaviors. CBT has proven successful in treating a variety of conditions ranging from mental health disorders to addiction.1 

IPT, in contrast, zooms in on interpersonal relationships. It aims to improve how one relates with others to enhance mental health.

When deciding between the two, it boils down to the nature of the patient’s challenges. If their concerns center around how they think and act in situations, CBT might be most appropriate. But, if their issues are more about relationships and interactions with others, IPT should be considered.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a branch of CBT, tailored to address extreme emotional instability. It offers tools and techniques to handle strong emotions.

IPT is instead focused on resolving interpersonal issues that contribute to emotional distress.2 

For those who find themselves overwhelmed by their emotions, DBT may be appropriate. But, if relational issues are the crux of the problem, IPT can be a great fit.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy dives deep into unconscious processes and past experiences. It believes they play a pivotal role in current behaviors. IPT acknowledges the past but concentrates on present relationships and situations.3 
When deciding between the two, consider patient preferences. If they want to discuss childhood experiences or unconscious processes, psychodynamic therapy might resonate with them.
If they’re more concerned with addressing current relationship challenges, IPT is worth considering.

Core Techniques of Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy has a toolkit of techniques tailored to address different interpersonal issues. Let’s explore some of the fundamental methods applied in sessions.


Clarification serves as a technique to ensure both the patient and the therapist are on the same page.
It’s a process where therapists ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of a person’s:
  • Feelings
  • Thoughts
  • Behaviors
By ensuring that there’s no misunderstanding, clarification ensures that the therapy remains targeted. It can guide the direction of the session, making sure everyone’s working toward a shared goal.

Communication Analysis

In interpersonal therapy, therapists observe the patient’s way of communicating. They look at both verbal and non-verbal cues.
This could include:
  • How patients describe interactions with others
  • Their body language
  • Their tone of voice
By identifying both effective and problematic communication habits, people can become more aware of how they interact with others. This awareness can lead to more positive interactions and better relationships in daily life.

Role Play

Role play is not about performance but revelation in interpersonal therapy. It’s a tool used to simulate interpersonal interactions within the therapy session. It offers a live snapshot of relational dynamics.
Patients might re-enact specific scenarios with the therapist. This can help unveil underlying issues and patterns. It’s an active technique that highlights problems and allows for testing new communication and coping strategies.
Role play helps the patient and therapist identify challenges and opportunities within relationships. It’s a hands-on approach that can provide insights unattainable through mere discussion.4 

Exploring Past Relationships

Interpersonal therapy is anchored in the present. But, exploring past relationships is also important. A look into past relationships offers insights into patterns, such as:
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Recurring feelings
  • Consistent types of interactions. 
This exploration helps patients understand how old relationships influence today’s interpersonal dynamics. It ensures that the strategies offer a pathway to sustained improvement and relational harmony.

Treating Disorders with Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy is more than just a way to improve interactions with others. It’s a proven method to address and treat various disorders that can affect a person’s daily life.


Depression can often stem from strained interpersonal relationships or a lack of social support. IPT focuses on these interpersonal issues that might be contributing to depression. It helps people identify and address relationships and patterns that feed depressive symptoms.

IPT addresses current relationships and social scenarios. This makes it a targeted approach for those whose depression is intertwined with their interpersonal dynamics.


Anxiety, in its many forms, can have a strong relational component. Someone may worry about how others perceive them. They may fear social interactions.

Interpersonal therapy approaches anxiety by zeroing in on these interpersonal triggers. It helps people challenge negative thought patterns about their interactions with others.

Substance Use

Substance use isn’t just about the substance itself. Often, there are underlying issues, many of which are interpersonal in nature. Someone may use substances to cope with a troubled relationship. Their social circle may revolve around substance use.

Interpersonal therapy identifies and addresses the interpersonal triggers that lead to substance use. It provides a fresh perspective, focusing on both substance use and relationships that might fuel it.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, can significantly impact daily life. These conditions often involve feelings of sadness, emptiness, or extreme mood swings.

IPT can be a valuable tool in addressing mood disorders because it identifies and addresses interpersonal issues that contribute to or worsen mood disturbances. For instance, a rift with a close friend or ongoing tension at work might intensify feelings of depression.

Over time, as these relationships or interactions become more positive, or as people become better equipped to manage them, their mood can stabilize and improve.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders aren’t just about food. They can be deeply intertwined with issues of self-worth, control, and often, interpersonal problems.

Someone with an eating disorder might use food as a way to cope with feelings of inadequacy in relationships. It may also be a response to societal pressures about appearance.

IPT helps to pinpoint these connections, giving people a clearer understanding of how their relationships influence their feelings about food and their body.

IPT Across Demographics

Interpersonal therapy’s versatile nature allows it to cater to a wide range of people. From children and teens to the elderly, and people from diverse cultural backgrounds, IPT has found its place.

Children and Adolescents

IPT, when tailored for younger people, shifts in its approach. Children and teenagers aren’t just adults-in-the-making. Their emotions, how they handle relationships, and the way they perceive the world around them are different.
IPT focuses on immediate social settings, like school, family, and close friends. It helps them navigate challenges in these environments. For instance, a teenager might be struggling with peer pressure, while a younger child could be dealing with changes in the family dynamic, like a new sibling.
Moreover, the rapid physical and emotional changes they undergo can create a whirlwind of emotions. IPT helps them anchor themselves, teaching them to recognize, understand, and respond to these feelings effectively.


Whether it’s navigating the complexities of intimate relationships, grappling with work-related stress, adjusting to parenthood, or managing the balance between personal aspirations and societal expectations, adults often find themselves at crossroads.
Interpersonal therapy allows adults to explore these challenges. For example, a young adult might be transitioning from college to a professional setting, causing strain in friendships or sparking identity questions.
Midlife could bring about the renowned “midlife crisis,” where questions about purpose, achievements, and future directions come to the fore.

How IPT Can Help Adults

IPT provides adults with the tools to:
  • Communicate effectively
  • Set boundaries
  • Nurture meaningful relationships
  • Maintain their emotional well-being
Through IPT, adults learn to recognize patterns, address conflicts, and cultivate richer, more fulfilling interpersonal lives.


Age brings wisdom, but it also brings its own set of challenges. The golden years can sometimes be shadowed by feelings of isolation, loss, or a diminishing sense of purpose. IPT focuses on enhancing social support and improving relationships, both of which can improve mental well-being at this age.
IPT provides tools to cope with changes in their interpersonal world. This might mean dealing with grief after the loss of a loved one, adjusting to a life in a retirement home, or managing feelings associated with physical health decline.
They might also grapple with feelings of dependency or struggle with the changed dynamics in relationships as they age. IPT aids in navigating these waters, ensuring they feel valued, connected, and heard.

Diverse Cultural Backgrounds

Every culture is a rich tapestry of beliefs, norms, and values, often leading to different perspectives on mental and emotional well-being.
In interpersonal therapy, there’s a deep understanding of this diversity. Therapists take special care to ensure that the therapy is respectful and aligned with a person’s cultural beliefs and practices. This means being attuned to the varied ways emotions and relationships are navigated across cultures.
Such cultural sensitivity in IPT not only acknowledges but celebrates the differences, ensuring that people feel seen, heard, and understood.

Challenges and Myths Surrounding IPT

Interpersonal therapy is a recognized and respected therapeutic method, especially in the treatment of depression. But, like all treatments, it comes with its own set of misunderstandings and potential limitations.

Expectation Management

While the time-limited nature of IPT can be beneficial for some, others might expect instant results or feel pressured by the time frame.

Not One-Size-Fits-All

IPT might not be suitable for everyone. For instance, people who don’t identify interpersonal issues as a primary concern might find other therapeutic methods more appropriate.

Overemphasis on the Present

While IPT primarily focuses on current interpersonal conflicts, some people might need deeper exploration of past traumas or experiences that are influencing their present. They might feel this is overlooked in IPT.

Potential for Relational Blame

Given its focus on interpersonal dynamics, there’s a risk that some might misinterpret the therapy as placing blame on their relationships for their mental health issues. It’s essential to understand that IPT identifies relationships as one of many contributing factors.

Requires Active Participation

Interpersonal therapy is an active form of therapy, where clients need to be willing to discuss, role-play, and confront challenging interpersonal dynamics. This level of engagement might not be suitable for everyone.

Potential for Emotional Intensity

Discussing interpersonal issues, especially strained or traumatic relationships, can be emotionally intense. Patients should be prepared for this and ensure they have the necessary support outside of therapy sessions.

Stigma and Misconceptions

Like other forms of therapy, IPT is not immune to societal misconceptions. People might misunderstand the therapy’s focus on relationships.
They might think it’s just about “fixing” friendships or partnerships, rather than addressing broader relational dynamics and their impact on mental health.
Interpersonal Therapy

Ripple Ranch’s Interpersonal Therapy Program

Ripple Ranch proudly offers interpersonal therapy. We recognize its effectiveness in addressing various relationship challenges and enhancing communication.
Every session is designed to equip people with skills to better understand emotions, communicate more effectively, and handle conflicts positively.
Here’s how we make it happen:

Personalized Approach

Each person comes with their own unique set of challenges and experiences. Our therapists ensure that the therapy sessions are tailored to your specific needs and concerns.

Qualified Therapists

Our team consists of experienced professionals who are well-versed in IPT and are committed to your well-being. They continually undergo training to stay updated with the latest techniques in the field.

Comfortable Environment

We understand the importance of comfort in therapy. Ripple Ranch provides a serene, confidential, and welcoming environment, allowing you to open up and discuss your concerns freely.

Continuous Support

Therapy doesn’t end when the session is over. We offer resources and support to help you continue your journey toward sustainably healthy interpersonal relationships even outside our facility.

Feedback Loop

We believe in the power of feedback. Regular check-ins and progress evaluations are integral parts of our program, ensuring that we’re always aligned with your needs and adjusting the approach when necessary.

Contact Ripple Ranch Today

If you’re considering IPT or want to learn more about how it can benefit you, reach out to us. At Ripple Ranch, we’re here to guide, support, and help you navigate the challenges of life with evidence-based care.