In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Interpersonal Psychotherapy

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Empirical Evidence
  • Original Published Manuals for Depression
  • Clinical References

Social Work Interpersonal Psychotherapy
Sarah Bledsoe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0139


Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a focused, practical, and proven time-limited intervention designed originally for the treatment of outpatients with non-psychotic depression. In the 1970s, Gerald Klerman and Myrna Weissman sought to compare psychotherapy systematically to pharmacotherapy for the treatment of depression. IPT was originally developed as a manualized intervention that could be reliably delivered by many clinicians and evaluated in clinical trials. IPT grew from the theoretical work of Harry Stack Sullivan and Adolf Meyer, emphasizing the interpersonal nature and psychosocial antecedents of mental disorder, as well as from several empirical studies demonstrating the links between interpersonal stresses and the onset of depression. IPT views the onset of depression as typically occurring in a social and interpersonal context and addresses both the symptoms and the interpersonal life of the patient through a focus on four interpersonal problem areas: grief (complicated bereavement), role disputes, role transitions, and interpersonal deficits (paucity of attachments). The two goals of IPT—to reduce depressive symptoms and help the patient better deal with people and life situations associated with the onset of the current episode of depression—are addressed by assisting the patient to understand depression as an illness and to reduce symptoms by learning new social skills and strengthening or building positive social support networks. IPT’s success in a series of randomized clinical trials led to its expansion to treat a variety of depressive subtypes and other psychiatric syndromes. IPT has since demonstrated efficacy under controlled research conditions for the treatment of a variety of disorders, and the efficacy of IPT as an acute and maintenance treatment for major depression has been well established. IPT has been adapted for the treatment of other mood and non-mood disorders and comorbid conditions, such as depressed HIV-positive outpatients, adolescent depression, dysthymic disorder, depression in pregnant and postpartum women, group format, and bipolar disorder.

Introductory Works

Since it is often useful to have a starting point when investigating a new form of intervention, an overview of recent, brief publications that offer a frame of reference on the development and application of IPT is provided here. The references below should be useful as a starting point for beginning clinicians or as an overview for students interested in comparing and contrasting different intervention modalities. Weissman 2006 gives a brief history of the development of IPT. Stuart 2006 and Ravitz 2004 offer basic introductions to the concepts, theories, and evidence supporting IPT. Markowitz, et al. 1998 and Cutler, et al. 2004 clarify the distinction between interpersonal psychotherapy and alternative therapeutic approaches to the treatment of depression. These articles may be useful both for seasoned clinicians with experience in other forms of psychotherapy and for new clinicians in distinguishing the unique elements of IPT.

  • Cutler, Janice L., Adam Goldyne, John C. Markowitz, Michael J. Devlin, and Robert A. Glick. 2004. Comparing cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. American Journal of Psychiatry 161.9: 1567–1573.

    DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.9.1567

    This case conference report describes the application of cognitive behavioral therapy, IPT, and brief psychodynamic therapy to a single case of major depressive disorder.

  • Markowitz, John C., Martin Svartberg, and H. A. Swartz. 1998. Is IPT time-limited psychodynamic psychotherapy? Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research 7:185–195.

    This informative article discusses similarities and differences between IPT and short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, providing case examples of the application of both for the treatment of depression.

  • Ravitz, Paula. 2004. The interpersonal fulcrum: Interpersonal therapy for treatment of depression. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry Bulletin (February) 36.1: 15–19.

    This brief article offers a basic introduction to IPT with a sophisticated yet easily digestible explanation of the interpersonal aspects of depression and its treatment.

  • Stuart, Scott. 2006. Interpersonal psychotherapy: A guide to the basics. Psychiatric Annals 35:542–549.

    This useful article describes the basic concepts and practices of IPT for depression. It includes background on underpinning theory and therapeutic stance.

  • Weissman, Myrna M. 2006. A brief history of interpersonal psychotherapy. Psychiatric Annals 36:553–557.

    This article discusses the history of interpersonal psychotherapy, including adaptations and issues in training and dissemination of IPT.

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