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Interpersonal Therapy: Examples and How It Works

Many forms of therapy are primarily concerned with the relationship between the self (lower case "s") and the Self (capital "S'). That is, therapy often seeks to bring a person's perception of their self closer to that which is their true Self - who they really are inside. A patient may feel distress because they don't see themselves as representative of what they truly value.

Other forms of therapy, like interpersonal therapy, focus primarily on the relationship of the Self to others. In other words, some therapists are primarily concerned with how the patient relates at the deepest level to those other Selves who surround them.

Humans are hardwired to be social. Every relationship you have informs upon both the self and the Self - your friends change your self-perception by jokingly insulting your sweater; they also inform your Self by example - their adherence to certain values. And because other Selves often behave in seemingly unpredictable and conflicted ways, many people find that both their self-perception and their true Self are simultaneously at odds with each other and with others.

This can cause a number of mental health concerns and conditions, like depression, the main target of interpersonal therapy.

Interpersonal therapy is a form of therapy that addresses - and restructures, if necessary, - these relationships (and the perception of these relationships) in a more accurate and healthy way. The therapist helps to reveal why your friends insulted your sweater, what can be done within the relationship to prevent this kind of attack on your self-perception from happening again, and why you even care this much in the first place.

In this comprehensive exploration, we will discover the true meaning - and benefits - of interpersonal therapy and its goal of reducing depressive symptoms.

Key Takeaways:

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses primarily on how you relate to others in your life
  • Interpersonal therapy can be individual or group, and works to reduce distress around relationship conflicts and relationships themselves
  • There are 4 main areas of interpersonal psychotherapy: Role transitions, interpersonal deficits, role disputes, and grief

Interpersonal Therapy Resources on This Page:

Examples of Interpersonal Therapy At Work

The Four Areas of Interpersonal Therapy: A Breakdown for Beginners

Interpersonal Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Examples of Interpersonal Therapy At Work

A woman engages with a therapist due to feelings of depression and worthlessness soon after a bitter divorce with her now ex-wife.

An interpersonal therapist works to discover exactly which mechanisms in the relationship are contributing to, causing, and maintaining that feeling.

This is an example of interpersonal therapy at work.

The woman, heartbroken and angry with herself and her ex-wife, finds clarity in the realization that she based far too much of her self-worth on the opinion of a woman who, as the divorce proceedings revealed, had been unfaithful for some time and whose opinion, therefore, was suspect to begin with.

Interpersonal therapy, in this case - which is certainly not an all-inclusive representation of how interpersonal therapy works - works to instruct the patient on how to develop intrinsic self-worth: bringing the self closer to the Self through the analysis of the relationships between the Self and others.

The Four Areas of Interpersonal Therapy: A Breakdown for Beginners

Practically, interpersonal therapy is a brief (12 to 16 week) course of fairly stringent, well-studied, and evidence-based proceedings. Interpersonal therapy, or IPT, focuses on depression and depression alone - it has not yet been studied enough to determine its efficacy with other mental health concerns.

We should not forget that, in IPT, the theory is not that interpersonal concerns alone can cause depression. If that were true, we would see - clinically and in studies - that short-term depression is a nearly ubiquitous condition, arising every time anyone loses someone. Because we don't see that - many people experience periods of mourning and sadness but not depression - we must assume that other factors contribute to depression. However, interpersonal therapy concedes that interpersonal problems can certainly contribute to depression.

Within interpersonal therapy, there are four primary pillars that define its submodalities, or methods of therapy related to a specific presenting issue.

Detailed below, these four pillars make up interpersonal therapy as a whole.

Role Transitions

A role transition is a practical life change that affects how the patient self identifies.

Losing a job, for example, yanks a patient's self-perception from competent, capable, and independent to lost, alone, and incompetent.

In this case, the therapist's job is to restructure the patient's relationships with those who are central to the role transition: your boss, your colleagues, your partner, and even your friends.

Interpersonal Deficits

Interpersonal deficits are not relationship conflicts that need addressing. They are, in fact, the absence of relationships where the patient indeed desires them.

A man who is feeling depressed because of his trouble in dating may attend interpersonal therapy in order to understand why, despite being handsome, tall, and well-paid, he is not able to secure anything more serious than a second date.


One of the most common interpersonal concerns, grief, occurs when the patient loses someone - usually due to death.

Death is disturbingly permanent, and if you lose someone who was a big influence on you, or who was central to forming and changing your true Self, depression can arise instantly. Interpersonal therapy, in this case, seeks to provide relief for the patient by processing their relationship - and its end - with the person they lost.

Interpersonal Role Disputes

Interpersonal role disputes occur when you and someone central to your life - central to your Self - are at odds in regards to the expectations of your relationship.

This can be a fight with your husband, tension with a close friend, or even a political conflict with a coworker.

Interpersonal therapy seeks to reduce depressive disorders and symptoms that can arise with the contribution of these four pillars.

What is an interpersonal process group (1920 × 1080 px)

Interpersonal Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you have recently undergone a life transition, or you are currently having a conflict with someone close to you, or you just feel lonely - and it's causing depressive symptoms - interpersonal process therapy may be right for you.

Williamsburg Therapy Group is Brooklyn's premier mental health collective. With a spa-like therapy space and a staff of exclusively doctoral-level talk therapists, our practice is here to serve the complex minds of our Williamsburg community, and Brooklyn at large.

Give us a call, and our patient coordinator will help match you with the right therapist for you. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

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