Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression

Cleon L. Cornes, MD and Ellen Frank, PhD

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, PA

Reprinted from:
Cornes, C. L., & Frank, E. (1994). Interpersonal psychotherapy for depression. The Clinical Psychologist, 47(3), 9-10.

I. Description of Treatment

Interpersonal Psychotherapy of Depression (IPT) was developed in the New Haven-Boston Collaborative Depression Research Project by Gerald Klerman, MD, Myrna Weissman, PhD, and their colleagues for the treatment of ambulatory depressed, nonpsychotic, nonbipolar patients. Over the past 20 years, IPT has been carefully studied in many research protocols, has been demonstrated to successfully treat patients with depression, and has been modified to treat other psychiatric disorders (substance abuse, dysthymia, bulimia) and patient populations (adolescents, late-life, primary medical care). It has primarily been utilized as a short-term (approximately 16 week) therapy, but has also been modified for use as a maintenance therapy for patients with recurrent depression.

IPT is based on theories emanating from the interpersonal school of psychiatry (H. S. Sullivan et al.) and empirical data related to attachment bonds and social roles. It was designed to be used without medication or in combination with anti-depressants. Many of the techniques used in IPT are familiar to practitioners of dynamic and supportive forms of psychotherapy. However it includes specific strategies such as assessing the symptoms of depression, relating the onset of the depressive inventory and selecting a focus for the treatment from the following problem areas: delayed/incomplete grief, role transitions, role disputes or interpersonal deficit. These tasks are usually accomplished in the first three sessions. The middle phase (sessions 4-13) is devoted to work on the specific problem area with the goals of alleviating the symptoms of depression and improving interpersonal relationships. In the termination phase (sessions 14-16) the course of treatment is reviewed, progress reinforced, feelings about ending the therapy addressed and future problems anticipated.

II. Summary of Studies Supporting Treatment Efficacy

From the beginning IPT has been tested in various clinical trials (Klerman et al., Am J. Psychiatry 131: 186-191, 1974; Weissman et al., Am J. Psychiatry 136: 555-558, 1979) and found to be effective in treating acute episodes of depression and preventing or delaying the onset of subsequent episodes. A large multicenter collaborative study was conducted by the NIMH, comparing IPT, CBT, imipramine and placebo. Results of the Collaborative Study were published in 1989 (Elkin et al. Arch Gen Psychiatry 46: 971-983), demonstrating that IPT was quite effective in treating acute symptoms of depression during the first 6-8 weeks, with improvement in psychosocial function continuing after 16 weeks. Frank and her colleagues in Pittsburgh have demonstrated the efficacy of IPT as a maintenance treatment and have delineated some contributing factors (see references).

III. References

IPT was originally developed using a treatment manual, and later the approach was described in a textbook that is used for training therapists:

Klerman, G., Weissman, M., Rounseville, B., & Chevron, E., Interpersonal psychotherapy of depression. Basic Books, New York, 1984.

Other selected references include:

Cornes, C.: Interpersonal psychotherapy of depression, in Handbook of the brief psychotherapies. Eds. Wells, R. and Gianetti, V., Plenum Press, New York, 1990.

Frank, E.: Interpersonal psychotherapy as a maintenance treatment for patients with recurrent depression. Psychotherapy 28: 259-266, 1991.

Klerman, G. and Weissman, M., Eds: New applications of interpersonal psychotherapy. American Psychiatric Press, Washington, DC, 1993.

Cornes, C.: Interpersonal psychotherapy of depression: A case study, in Casebook of the brief psychotherapies. Eds. Wells, R. and Gianetti, V., Plenum Press, New York, 1993.

IV. Resources for Training

We have developed an IPT training program in Pittsburgh which requires 40 hours of training and supervision of two cases using videotapes. Interested therapists can contact us at

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
3811 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Telephone (412) 624-2211

Myrna Weissman is also currently in the process of collecting names of other qualified IPT therapists who may be able to provide training.

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