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Interpersonal Therapy Techniques and Why They Are Helpful

Read this short guide to learn about what Interpersonal Therapy is and what common techniques are used during Interpersonal Therapy sessions with clients.

By Joshua Napilay on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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Interpersonal Therapy Techniques

Hello! If you stumbled upon this guide, then you’re probably a therapist wondering if Interpersonal Therapy is something that you should add to your repertoire or if you’re just interested in the subject. Whichever the case, welcome!

In this mini-guide, we will provide you with a general overview of what Interpersonal Therapy is, what it tries to address, how it can benefit clients, what techniques are often used by therapists practicing it, and what activities are usually involved in the therapy process.

If you do therapeutic work, we hope you find this topic interesting enough that you’ll consider trying or adding this to your work. If you’re a person looking for a type of therapy that’s focused on relationships, then we hope this guide informs you enough in a way that you’ll believe that this is the type of program you’d want to sign up for to help you with your interpersonal problems.

What is Interpersonal Therapy?

Interpersonal Therapy (also known as IPT for short) is a type of therapy that is geared towards addressing mental health-related problems by focusing on the current relationships that a client has. The reason why the focus of this type of therapy is a client’s relationships is that it operates on the idea that relationships impact a person’s mental well-being.

Therapists who practice this type of therapy will look into the following aspects of their client’s life:

  • If they have any difficulties establishing new relationships and maintaining current ones
  • If they have any conflicts in their current relationships
  • If they are experiencing grief and loss (they lost someone important to them recently, or maybe it’s been a long time, and they haven’t worked through their grief and loss)
  • If they are undergoing significant changes in their lives (e.g., having to move to another country and leave their loved ones behind for a long time, getting fired or laid off from a job, becoming a parent, losing someone important, etc.)

Interpersonal Therapy programs often run for twelve to sixteen weeks. During the early sessions of the program, the therapist will seek to identify all the significant relationships of their client and see which of the aforementioned aspects they fall on.

Once the therapist has identified their client’s significant relationships, they will try to uncover how these play a role in the client’s life and mental well-being and unearth any problems they have with these relationships. They will spend most of the therapy program doing this, including determining what interpersonal problems they can focus on, developing actionable steps and strategies the client can follow and do, and helping them develop the necessary skills to healthily cope with and work through relationship problems.

Why are Interpersonal Therapy Techniques helpful?

Interpersonal Therapy Techniques are the methods that therapists use to get the ball rolling for this type of therapy. Some techniques are geared to help the therapist establish rapport and trust with their client to get the necessary information about their relationships and their role in the client’s mental well-being. Some are geared to nudge the client to realize things about their relationships, while some techniques are there to help clients determine what to do by instilling self-awareness and confidence.

These techniques are not only helpful but are also necessary when it comes to the Interpersonal Therapy process. If it weren’t for such techniques, the therapist wouldn’t get anywhere with this type of therapy, and progress would be limited in terms of improving the client’s mental well-being.

Interpersonal Therapy Techniques are also helpful in that they are actionable. These techniques can help clients develop certain essential skills, especially in their relationships and daily interactions. They can learn how to be more effective when communicating with others. They can build confidence, especially during moments when they have to assert themselves. They can learn how to resolve conflicts, especially if these conflicts affect their relationships.

7 Interpersonal Therapy Techniques and Exercises

Now that you know the gist of what Interpersonal Therapy is and what it aims to do, it’s time to know seven of the best Interpersonal Therapy Techniques you can include in your IPT program!

  1. Interpersonal Inventory

It’s safe to say this is one of the most important techniques you need to do for this type of therapy. This technique will have you and the client identify the most important relationships in the client’s life. Through this technique, therapists will learn how their client views their significant relationships, including how they play a role in their mental well-being. This will set the groundwork for the rest of the program.

  1. Communication Analysis

This is a common technique in therapy. This technique will have the therapist discuss communication styles, but before doing so, they will ask about their client’s relationships regarding how they interact with people. More importantly, the therapist will try to probe the client about potential conflicts they have with certain people and see if such conflicts are ongoing.

Once conflicts have been identified (and detailed, if possible), the therapist can discuss communication styles and approaches to help clients build effective communication and conflict-resolution skills.

  1. Role-playing

The therapist and client can work together by having the client take on the role of a certain person in the client’s life. The client will talk to the therapist as if they were a person in their life. This is a good way to gauge what the client is like when it comes to interacting with certain people.

This might give them a sense of self-awareness and the chance to reflect on what they are like when communicating with certain people. They can think about how they can communicate differently (healthily), especially if they have unresolved conflicts with those people.

  1. Imagery Rescripting

This technique is a little sensitive, considering it involves the client reliving or thinking about stressful or upsetting situations. In the context of this type of therapy, it has to be a stressful or upsetting situation involving a significant person in their life.

By having them rethink this situation, they can reflect on how they conducted themselves and how they reacted. If the way they conducted themselves and reacted is negative, they have the opportunity to think about what they could have done differently. This technique will help them determine how they can healthily navigate themselves in similar situations in the future, especially when it comes to certain people.

  1. Grief Analysis

This technique will likely involve worksheets since this is all about helping people work through their grief and the loss of a loved one. Depending on your client, they might be grieving a recent loss, or they might have been dealing with grief and loss for a long time. This is the therapist’s chance to find out how grief and loss have affected their client’s life and their relationships.

By talking to their client about their dearly departed, the client can see how negatively the grief has affected their life and relationships. By becoming aware of this, they might become more willing to accept the loss and work through the grief. Adding worksheets that deal with grief and loss might help them come to terms with their feelings, and they can better prepare themselves for the inevitable loss of another person in the future.

  1. Guided Imagery

This technique will come in the form of an exercise. The client will imagine themselves in a certain environment. Have them describe this environment in detail, including what they see, what the atmosphere is like, and who are the people around them. The therapist and client will work to develop a scene, and the client will discuss what they are like whenever they are in this environment, especially regarding how they interact with others.

To cover as much ground as possible, the therapist can also have the client describe a more stressful or even upsetting environment, then have them describe what they are normally like in such an environment. This can help the client realize things about themselves whenever they are in certain environments and situations. This can lead to an opportunity to teach them strategies to cope healthily when they are in upsetting environments.

  1. Social Skills Training

This is a type of therapy technique that has the therapist teach their client important social skills like assertiveness, empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution. This is so the client can learn how to adjust themselves when interacting with certain people. Not everyone is the same, after all, and people conduct themselves differently depending on the person or people they are with at the moment.

The aforementioned skills are essential for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships. Who knows? Maybe some of the client’s conflicts are based on the fact that they lack these skills, so teaching them these skills will go a long way.

5 Interpersonal Therapy Worksheets

Earlier, we mentioned a technique that may require worksheets (the one about grief). For this section, we’d like to suggest five Interpersonal Therapy Worksheets that might help you make progress with your client’s therapy.

  1. Interpersonal Relationships Worksheet

If the therapist has a difficult time trying to get the client to talk about their significant relationships, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to talk. Some people find it difficult to talk about the important people in their lives, especially if these relationships affect their well-being. If they struggle to articulate themselves through conversation, issuing this worksheet might do the trick. Some people can express themselves better through writing activities.

This worksheet normally has writing prompts to help the client write, like:

  • Indicate five to ten of the most significant people in your life. Dead or alive.
  • What are these people like?
  • What do you like about these people?
  • What do you not like about these people?
  1. Goodbye Letter Worksheet

This worksheet is best issued to a client dealing with grief and loss, whether it’s something they’ve only been dealing with recently or for a long time. This can help them work through their grief by accepting the loss and letting go of a dearly departed.

Sometimes, this worksheet is free-form, meaning the person engaging with it can write whatever they want. Some versions have guide questions or complete-the-sentence prompts. The person is dealing with grief and loss, after all, so they might have a hard time writing without something to nudge them.

  1. Closeness Circle Worksheet

This worksheet is similar to the Interpersonal Relationships Worksheet because the client will identify all the significant relationships in their life, but this time, they will arrange them in a circle. This circle has several layers. The closer the layers are to the center, the closer the people are to the client. They will arrange their significant relationships in terms of how close they are to the person. If they’re unsure, the therapist should guide them to determine that.

This is an opportunity to see which of their significant relationships are lagging behind in terms of maintenance, and the client can identify why they’re on certain parts of the circle instead of the one closest to the center.

This can become the gateway to teaching the client better social skills and communication strategies in order to help them maintain their relationships and keep them healthy. They can also learn how to set boundaries if they indicate a person as very close, but they find them to be problematic.

  1. Wanting to Be Heard Worksheet

If one of the problems raised during the therapy sessions is that the client is having a hard time making themself heard in one or several relationships, this is a good worksheet to issue to them. This worksheet will have the client write down when would be the best time to have certain conversations with certain people, times when they don’t listen to others or accept a no, times when I feel statements should be used, times when compromises should be accepted, and how finding better ways to communicate can help them.

This will help the client realize things about how they communicate. They will have the chance to identify their shortcomings and how they can improve to not only be heard but to hear others.

  1. Interpersonal Parenting Tips Worksheet

This is similar to the Wanting to Be Heard worksheet, but only in the sense that they will be listing down the best times to approach their child for certain conversations, the best times to give them assurance on certain matters, times when using I feel statements should be appropriate (especially when the child says something that upsets the client), and ways clients can look after themselves (since parenting is a tough job, especially if the relationship with the child is strained, no matter how little or bad).

When is it best to use Interpersonal Therapy Techniques?

The best time to use Interpersonal Therapy Techniques will depend on the technique you plan on using.

For example, say you want to use Interpersonal Inventory. That technique is best to use during the earliest stages of the therapy program, specifically the stages when you’re getting to know your client and need to know what their most significant relationships are. If you’re already in the late stages of the program, it doesn’t seem appropriate to still want your client to identify more relationships in their life.

Another example would be Grief Analysis. This is only appropriate if you are dealing with a client experiencing grief and loss, especially if they are grieving a certain person in their life. This technique is meant to help them work through their grief and loss. If they’re not experiencing both, then Grief Analysis isn’t viable for the program, so it’s best to determine if the significant relationships of your client’s life include someone who has already passed away (that’s where the Interpersonal Inventory comes in).

The best way to determine what specific techniques you should use for your sessions is to get enough information about your client and their interpersonal relationships. Knowing the significance of these relationships and how they affect your client’s well-being will help you determine what the appropriate techniques are and when to use them.

Why use Carepatron for Interpersonal Therapy-related work?

If you are a therapist, then we’d like to ask you to spend some time exploring the Carepatron platform. We’re sure you will find something that will benefit you and your clients, no matter the type of therapy you’re providing them, may it be physical therapy or mental health-related.

One of the features that we’re most proud of is our collection of resources. We have a treasure trove that’s filled to the brim with worksheets, assessments, survey templates, general treatment plans, progress note templates, form templates, and much more that we’re sure would help you streamline your work and cover more ground when gauging and treating patients.

Earlier in this guide, we discussed worksheets that can be used during the Interpersonal Therapy program. We’d like you to know that we have an abundance of therapy worksheets that you can use to help your patient understand themselves better in terms of how they communicate. Some worksheets can help them work through grief and even help them strategize about coping with certain situations in healthy ways. We’re sure you’ll find something from our library that will help you guide your patient when it comes to dealing with their interpersonal issues.

Besides having clinical resources to download, Carepatron also has a storage system that you can access! You can store all your clinical documents with us in a HIPAA-compliant manner. If you want to create backups of any therapy-related worksheet, store them with us! Storing them with us is the equivalent of creating backups of your files, so just in case you lose your physical copies, you can download the files and print them again! Even if you’re storing them with us, we can’t access them. Only you can provide the access permissions.

Not only will Carepatron help you streamline your workflow, but we can also help preserve your work by securing them!

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Commonly asked questions

Can Interpersonal Therapy be combined with other types of therapy?

Yes. If you believe that it might be beneficial for your client, you can definitely incorporate other types of therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

What does Interpersonal Therapy focus on?

It zooms in on a client’s interpersonal issues because the practice operates under the belief that people’s relationships can impact their mental well-being. It doesn’t focus on unconscious problems or trauma. It is based on a client’s significant relationships to help them communicate more effectively, navigate social situations healthily, and more.

How long do Interpersonal Therapy programs last?

A standard Interpersonal Therapy program should go on for 12 to 16 sessions. The first two or three is for establishing rapport and trust with the client and learning about their relationships. The bulk will be for helping them work through problems related to these relationships. The last two sessions should focus on how the client feels that their program is ending, what they’ve learned, their progress, and what they will do moving forward based on what they’ve gained in therapy.

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