IPT is a structured form of psychotherapy or counselling that examines the ways in which problems in human relationships contribute to psychological stress, and the ways in which psychological problems affect human relationships. Counselling comes in many forms, each having a particular focus and emphasis. IPT differs from other forms of treatment because it focuses primarily on relationship problems. When a person is able to deal with relationship problems more effectively, his or her psychological symptoms frequently improve. IPT is designed to help people recognise the interpersonal problems they face, and to make changes in their relationships. Many scientific studies have demonstrated the benefit of this approach using IPT, especially for alleviating depression. If you’re unsure if IPT is right for your symptoms and your situation please discuss it with your psychologist.


Your therapist will likely spend a few sessions talking with you about your current relationships as a way of understanding how they are connected with your symptoms. Your therapist will generally keep the discussion focused upon these kinds of problems. The relationship issues described by most people usually fall into one of the following areas:

  • Interpersonal disputes: disagreements or arguments with others, and unmet expectations
  • Role transitions: circumstances in which your life changes, such as losing a job, retiring, developing an injury or having a baby
  • Grief and loss: an emotional reaction to a major loss, such as when someone close to you has died. Loss of relationships or health status may also fall into this category
  • Interpersonal sensitivity:  difficulty initiating or maintaining relationships with others


Your therapist will discuss a few important matters with you. The first is the number of sessions and their length. This varies somewhat, but there are usually no more than twenty sessions. In IPT, the time limit is important as it helps move the treatment forward more quickly. Your therapist will keep the number of sessions and the length of sessions you have agreed upon, unless you both explicitly agree to do otherwise. Your therapist will also discuss the arrangements for lateness or missed sessions.


The practice of combining IPT and medications such as antidepressants is common, and for some people this may have advantages over receiving either treatment alone. If medication is being prescribed for you by a doctor or a psychiatrist, please be sure to inform your therapist about the medications and any changes to them. If you are not being prescribed medication it is possible that psychotherapy alone will reduce your symptoms, however your therapist will discuss with you if medication is also needed as an additional treatment. Further if you have any questions about combined or individual treatments please discuss them with your psychologist or doctor.


In the initial sessions of IPT you and your therapist will spend some time surveying the important relationships in your life and identifying those which should be discussed in more detail. Your therapist will work with you to complete an Interpersonal Inventory, which is a register of your key relationships and the problems associated with them. This inventory provides a reference for you and your therapist, and will be a focus of discussion during the course of treatment. While you and your therapist should try to complete the Interpersonal Inventory as thoroughly as possible in the first few sessions of treatment, there will be opportunities to further develop the inventory throughout all of the sessions.

During the middle sessions of treatment, you and your therapist will discuss your specific interpersonal problems and work on generating solutions to them. Some types of activity that may take place include ‘brainstorming’ solutions to problems, working on improving communication, and processing your emotional reactions to your relationship problems.

When concluding therapy, you and your therapist will discuss the progress you have made during the treatment. You should also spend some time planning ahead for any other problems you anticipate coming in the future. You and your therapist should also make specific plans for any future treatment you may require.


Compiled with the help of:

S. Stuart & Robertson M. (2003) “Interpersonal Psychotherapy, A Clinician’s Guide” Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd