Harvard Mental Health Letter

Ask the doctor: What is interpersonal therapy?

Q. I got divorced a few months ago. Recently I was diagnosed with depression. A friend suggested I try interpersonal therapy. She thinks the problem is my relationship with my former husband. I'd never heard of this type of therapy. Could you tell me more about it?

A. Interpersonal psychotherapy is a form of therapy originally developed to treat depression, but it is now used to treat other mental health problems. In three or four months of weekly meetings, therapist and patient discuss the patient's present relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. By focusing on interpersonal issues, the therapist hopes to relieve immediate symptoms and help the patient learn better ways to manage relationships in the future.

During therapy, the clinician asks questions meant to help the patient understand the source of the depression. Therapist and patient discuss what type of changes would make the patient feel better and set goals for treatment based on this analysis. Usually that means exploring one of four kinds of problems, although the topic may shift as therapy progresses.

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