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Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Created on August 5, 2017. Last updated on March 6th, 2024 at 04:45 pm

 What is Interpersonal Psychotherapy?

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a short-term treatment that is effective in treating depression in children. It is based on the idea that depression occurs in the context of an individual’s relationships, regardless of its origins in biology or genetics. More specifically, depression affects people’s relationships and these relationships further affect mood.

The IPT model identifies four general areas in which a person may be having relationship difficulties:

  • Grief after the loss of a loved one
  • Conflict in significant relationships
  • Difficulties adapting to changes in relationships or life circumstances
  • Difficulties stemming from social isolation

In IPT, therapists help the child to identify areas in need of skill-building to improve his or her relationships and decrease the depressive symptoms. Over time, the child learns to link changes in mood to things happening in his/her relationships, communicate feelings and expectations for his/her relationships, and problem-solve solutions to difficulties in the relationships.

IPT for Adolescents

IPT has been adapted for the treatment of depressed adolescents (IPT-A) to address developmental issues most common to teenagers, such as separation from parents, development of romantic relationships, and initial experience with death of a relative or friend. IPT-A helps the adolescent identify and develop more adaptive ways of dealing with the interpersonal issues associated with the onset or maintenance of their depression.

IPT-A is typically a 12-to-16 week treatment. The therapy primarily involves individual sessions with the teenager, although parents are asked to participate in a few sessions to receive education about depression, to address any relationship difficulties that may be occurring between the adolescent and his/her parents, and to help support the adolescent’s treatment.

IPT has been proven by numerous studies to be effective in treating depression in adolescents in both a group or individual format.



Gunlicks-Stoessel, M., Mufson, L., Jekal, A., & Turner, J. B. (2010). The impact of perceived interpersonal functioning on treatment for adolescent depression: IPT-A versus treatment as usual in school-based health clinics. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 78(2), 260.

Hall, E. B., & Mufson, L. (2009). Interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed adolescents (IPT-A): A case illustration. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 38(4), 582-593.

Spence, S. H., O’Shea, G., & Donovan, C. L. (2016). Improvements in interpersonal functioning following interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) with adolescents and their association with change in depression. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 44(3), 257-272.

Gunlicks‐Stoessel, M., & Mufson, L. (2016). Innovations in Practice: a pilot study of interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed adolescents and their parents. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 21(4), 225-230.

Mufson, L. H., Dorta, K. P., Olfson, M., Weissman, M. M., & Hoagwood, K. (2004). Effectiveness research: transporting interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed adolescents (IPT-A) from the lab to school-based health clinics. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 7(4), 251-261.

Young, J. F., Mufson, L., & Davies, M. (2006). Efficacy of Interpersonal Psychotherapy-Adolescent Skills Training: an indicated preventive intervention for depression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 47(12), 1254-1262.

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