Interpersonal Therapy, commonly referred to as IPT, was developed in 1969 by Gerald L. Klerman and Myrna M. Weissman as a brief psychodynamic therapeutic approach.
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Interpersonal Therapy recognizes the importance of childhood experiences with difficulties later in life. Therefore, individuals who have lost a parent, experienced death, or experienced other disruptions in the parenting relationship are believed to be more likely to develop depression later in life (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). This means that a person with these childhood experiences, stressful events, and experiences of adulthood are at a higher risk of developing depressive symptoms (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
As a brief psychodynamic approach, IPT is not intended for use on a long-term basis. Interpersonal Therapy occurs in 14-18 individual sessions per week (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). IPT focuses on interpersonal deficits, role expectations and conflicts, role transitions, and grief (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
There are three stages used during Interpersonal Therapy sessions:
- Initial sessions focus on assessing the client’s symptoms and exploring the client’s experience with the various aspects of IPT listed above (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors also work to provide psychoeducation about Interpersonal Therapy and depression as a mental health problem that can be effectively treated with IPT (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
- The intermediate phase forces clients to present problems or interpersonal difficulties identified in the initial sessions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). The counselor works with the client to develop goals and discuss how they can actually work to achieve those goals (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors encourage their clients to take responsibility for their sessions as much as possible (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
- The termination phase occurs in the last 2-4 sessions and is thoughtfully planned (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Feelings of anger, sadness, loss, and grief are explored and acknowledged during this phase of treatment (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). At the end of the collaborative work, counselors work to ensure that clients know and believe that they are capable of managing distressing emotions and moving forward on their own (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
Keep reading to learn 10 Interpersonal Therapy exercises and activities with your clients.
Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Interpersonal Therapy
IPT is designed to work with people living with depression. Research has shown that IPT can be as effective as antidepressants and CBT in treating individuals with depressive symptoms (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
In addition to major depressive disorder, Interpersonal Therapy can be used to treat individuals experiencing distressing symptoms as a result of complicated grief, conflicts within interpersonal relationships and roles, interpersonal skill deficits, and role transitions throughout life (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
Interpersonal Therapy Activities
Interpersonal Therapy exercises can be used at various stages of IPT to enhance the client’s experience and promote psychoeducation. IPT activities may include worksheets and handouts or may be counselor-led.
Below is a list that provides examples of Interpersonal Therapy Activities that can be used during sessions:
- A large component of Interpersonal Therapy is exploring and working through interpersonal difficulties. These can be in family relationships, romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, and workplace relationships. TherapyByPro offers Interpersonal worksheet focuses on feeling hearing. Clients can experience a reduction in the occurrence of interpersonal conflicts by improving their communication patterns and becoming more understanding.
- Learning to cope with emotional distress can also be an important focus of IPT exercises. Take the time to psychoeducate your client about DBT skills such as distress tolerance and emotion regulation. Allow time to practice skills and behaviors that can be used in response to difficulty, and encourage your client to use these skills in real-life situations outside of the session when they are experiencing difficulty. Take time to monitor the effects of DBT skills on their level of difficulty and explore how continued practice will benefit your client.
- Teaching clients what they can do to provide themselves with validation can be an important skill to incorporate into an IPT activity. Developed by TherapyByPro Self Validation Worksheet can be used to examine how clients may assert themselves and the effects they experience from these behaviors. This worksheet can also be a useful tool for clients who do not know how to assert themselves by listing the different behaviors that can be done. In addition, TherapyByPro is a Verification of Worksheets of Others can be used to increase interpersonal effectiveness within relatinoships.
- Meditation can be offered as an emotion regulation skill for clients who have difficulty managing their emotional distress. Meditation is an example of an emotion regulation skill that your clients can benefit from. Introduce the concept of meditation to your client and explore any preconceived expectations or beliefs about it. Once they have a clear understanding of meditation, take the time to introduce them to different forms of meditation, including breathing exercises, visualization, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Work your client’s experience with these practices and encourage them to use meditation outside of the session. Allow time to monitor the ability to do this in subsequent sessions.
- Clients living with interpersonal struggles may struggle to understand where their difficulties stem from. When this happens, our job is to investigate aspects of the relationship with our client that may have caused harm. TherapyByPro offers Interpersonal Effectiveness Troubleshooting Worksheet can be used as a guide when examining this aspect of customer relations. Maintaining a safe and non-judgmental environment can encourage engagement with clients as they explore their own behavior.
- Clients struggling with role transitions may benefit from a discussion that explores both roles in their lives. For example, if a woman has recently decided to put her career on hold to stay home with her children, she may struggle with this transition. Exploring the value of his work and the aspects of his career that he enjoys can help you understand why this change is difficult for him. It can also be an opportunity to explore the values and meaning of the new role and validate the client’s struggles with this change.
- Learning about the challenges our clients face in close quarters can help them improve their interpersonal relationships. Part of this puzzle is gaining insight and understanding into the various relationships of our clients and the level of intimacy that exists within those relationships. Developed by TherapyByPro Circle of Interpersonal Intimacy Worksheet This provides clients with a visual representation of the level of intimacy in their relationship, which can provide a different perspective from which to view the relationship. You can use this worksheet to further explore their understanding of intimacy and any issues affecting interpersonal relationships.
- Journals can be an effective tool for clients to express their thoughts and emotions, as well as track their progress. Clients struggling with depressive symptoms or other concerns with Interpersonal Therapy may find it a healthy coping skill for their daily lives. Journals can be a structured activity where they are asked to write about something similar every day, or a free-form opportunity to write about whatever comes up for them. Keeping previous journal entries allows clients to reflect on their challenges and successes, which can increase their confidence in their ability to cope.
- Helping our clients learn to communicate healthily and effectively can be a valuable Interpersonal Therapy exercise. Healthy communication can improve interpersonal relationships and enable our clients to create and maintain healthy boundaries within their relationships. TherapyByPro offers a DBT worksheet aimed at improving our client’s communication DEARMAN Confidence Worksheet. Following the DBT approach, this worksheet can help clients improve their communication pattern by using a simple acronym. Encourage your clients to use the DEARMAN strategy outside of the session and give them time to process their experience in the session.
- After talking with clients about healthy communication patterns, such as DEARMAN and I-statements, clients can benefit from a role-play exercise that allows them to practice the skills they have just learned. Role playing exercises allow Counselors to see what our client is taking away from related psychoeducational topics and provide feedback that can be used to improve their communication patterns. This can be an effective IPT exercise for clients working to establish and maintain boundaries, improve communication, and improve assertiveness skills.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Interpersonal Therapy Training for Your Clients
Thanks for reading this resource about 10 Interpersonal Therapy exercises and activities with your clients. The National Institute of Mental Health Major depression has been identified as one of the most common mental health problems among adults in the United States. The impact that depressive symptoms can have on a person’s level of functioning varies for each individual. Some may report having difficulty finding motivation, while others may be suicidal. There are several therapeutic interventions that may be effective in treating major depression, but given individual differences among clients, there is no “cookie cutter” approach to treating depression.
Interpersonal Therapy can be an effective treatment option for individuals who do not respond to other treatments and for those who have limited time to devote to therapy. IPT exercises and activities can be used to effectively strengthen the skills our client needs to overcome their challenges and increase their confidence in their ability to manage their mental health issues.
If you are interested in learning more about Interpersonal Therapy, we encourage you to explore continuing education opportunities and specialized training workshops that can help you develop the skills and knowledge to develop your ability to use this therapeutic approach.
TherapyByPro is a program online mental health directory connecting mental health professionals with clients in need. If you are a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your experience listing here. We have templates for assessments, practice forms, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use to facilitate their practice. Look at all of us mental health worksheets here.
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- Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, LW (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, strategies and skills (3rd Edition, pp. 120-121). Pearson Education, Inc.