Interpersonal therapy is a type of short-term psychotherapy model based on the work of Henry Stack Sullivan and then discussed at length in several articles and books by Gerald Klerman and Myrna Weissman, from the 1980s through the 2000s. Its principle aim is to treat conditions like unresolved depression. It may also be adapted for use with people who have conditions like anorexia or bulimia, unresolved grief, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, or other conditions.
The main goals of interpersonal therapy are to intervene when a person is in the midst of crisis and evaluate the situations and relationships, which can contribute to more crises. The initial depression or other feelings are described in detail. Then the therapist takes a somewhat instructive role in helping clients understand in what ways they maintain their emotionally turmoil by their behavior and relationships.
It tends to be assumed that clients need to grieve and also that they have positioned themselves in a role where they are the “sick person.” The client must change this role and transition to a new one, which will require having a new skill set. Though based on psychoanalysis, the therapist is very much involved in this process.
How long interpersonal therapy takes can vary. Many people work for a few months and once they have recovered from the immediate problem they discontinue therapy. Yet there is a longer form of interpersonal therapy, which might prove helpful to many people in severe distress. This form means that clients will continue to work on relapse prevention by continuing to examine the way they function in relationship to others.
There are some potential benefits to approaches in interpersonal therapy. It is short, and unlike cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which may also be used for many of these conditions, it doesn’t have much homework. CBT has proven extremely useful but it may hard to adapt to teens because of the amount of homework it requires. Like many therapies, interpersonal therapy is fully supportive of medication in order to help reduce symptoms too.
A disadvantage of this method is that many people aren’t fully trained in how to use it. There aren’t than many schools that teach it, which means that therapists attempting it may be doing so only by having read Klerman and Weissman’s work. This may not give them adequate time to practice it. However, with a skilled therapist who is trained, the method can be effective and is well received by many in the therapeutic community.