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10 Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) Exercises & Activities to do with your Clients

Interpersonal Therapy, commonly referred to as IPT, was developed as a brief psychodynamic therapeutic approach by Gerald L. Klerman and Myrna M. Weissman in 1969.

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Interpersonal Therapy recognizes the importance of childhood experiences with later distress in life. Because of this, it is believed that individuals who experience a loss of a parent, death or other disruption to their parental relationship, have an increased vulnerability for developing depression later in life (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). This means that an individual with this childhood experience, stressful events and experiences in adulthood has a higher risk of leading to the onset of depressive symptoms (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

As a brief psychodynamic approach, IPT is not intended to be used on a long-term basis. Interpersonal Therapy occurs over a range of 14 to 18 weekly individual sessions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). IPT focuses on interpersonal deficits, role expectations and disputes, role transitions, and grief (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

There are three phases used during Interpersonal Therapy sessions:

  1. Initial sessions focus on assessing the client’s symptoms and exploring the client’s experience with the different focuses of IPT listed above (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors also work to provide psychoeducation about Interpersonal Therapy, and that depression is a mental health concern that can be effectively treated with IPT (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
  2. The intermediate phase forces the clients to present problems or interpersonal difficulties that were identified in the initial sessions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). The counselor works with the client to develop goals and discuss how they can really work to achieve these goals (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors encourage their clients to take responsibility for their sessions as much as possible (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
  3. The termination phase occurs over the final 2-4 sessions and is thoughtfully planned (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Any feelings of anger, sadness, loss, and grief are explored and accepted during this phase of treatment (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). At the conclusion of working together, counselors work to ensure that clients know and believe that they are capable of managing distressing emotions and moving forward on their own (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

Keep reading to learn 10 Interpersonal Therapy exercises & activities to do with your clients.

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Interpersonal Therapy

IPT was developed to work with individuals that are living with depression. Research has shown that IPT can be as effective as antidepressants and CBT when treating individuals with depressive symptoms (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

In addition to major depressive disorder, Interpersonal Therapy can be used to treat individuals who are experiencing distressing symptoms resulting from complicated grief, conflict within interpersonal relationships and roles, interpersonal skill deficits, and role transitions that occur throughout life (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

Interpersonal Therapy Activities

Interpersonal Therapy exercises can be used during the various phases of IPT to enhance the client’s experience and to promote psychoeducation. IPT activities can incorporate worksheets and handouts, or be guided by the counselor.

Below is a list providing examples of Interpersonal Therapy Activities that can be used during sessions:

  1. A large component of Interpersonal Therapy is exploring and working through interpersonal difficulties. These can be present in family relationships, romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, and workplace relationships. TherapyByPro offers an Interpersonal Worksheet that focuses on feeling heard. By improving and better understanding communication patterns, clients can experience a decrease in the occurrence of interpersonal conflict.
  2. Learning to cope with emotional distress can also be an important focus of IPT exercises. Spend time providing your client with psychoeducation about DBT skills, such as distress tolerance and emotion regulation. Allow for time to practice skills and behaviors that can be used in response to distress and encourage your client to practice using these skills in real-life situations outside of the session when they find themselves struggling. Allow for time to follow up about the effects that DBT skills had on their level of distress, and explore how continued practice would benefit your client.
  3. Teaching clients about what they can do to provide themselves with validation can be an important skill to include in an IPT activity. TherapyByPro has developed a Validating Self Worksheet that can be used to explore how clients can show themselves validation, and the effects that they have experienced from these behaviors. This worksheet can also be a helpful tool for clients who are unsure how to show themselves validation by listing different behaviors that can be done. Additionally, TherapyByPro has developed a Validating Others Worksheet which can be used to improve interpersonal effectiveness within relatinoships. 
  4. Meditation can be introduced as an emotion regulation skill for clients who find themselves struggling to manage their emotional distress. Meditation is an example of an emotion regulation skill that your clients can benefit from. Introduce the concept of meditation to your client, and explore any preconceived expectations or beliefs that they have about it. Once they have an accurate understanding of meditation, take time to introduce them to various forms of meditation including breathing exercises, visualization, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Process your client’s experience with these practices, and encourage them to use meditation outside of the session. Allow for time to follow up about their ability to do so in later sessions.
  5. Clients who find themselves living with interpersonal struggles may have a hard time recognizing where their difficulty is stemming from. When this occurs, our job is to explore aspects of our client’s relationship that may be causing damage. TherapyByPro offers an Interpersonal Effectiveness Troubleshooting Worksheet which can be used as a guide when exploring this aspect of relationships with clients. Maintaining a safe and non-judgmental environment can promote client engagement when exploring their own behaviors.   
  6. Clients who find themselves struggling with role transitions may benefit from a discussion that explores both of the roles in their life. As an example, if a Woman has recently decided to pause her career to stay home with her children, she may find herself struggling with this transition. Exploring the value of her work, and aspects of her career that she enjoyed can help you understand why this shift is challenging for her. This can also be an opportunity to explore the values and meaning of the new role and validate the client’s struggle with this shift.
  7. Learning about challenges that our clients experience with intimacy can help improve their interpersonal relationships. A piece of this puzzle is gaining insight and understanding about the different relationships our clients have, and the level of intimacy present within these relationships. TherapyByPro has developed an Interpersonal Closeness Circle Worksheet that provides clients with a visual representation of the level of intimacy within their relationships that can provide a different perspective for viewing reltionships. You can use this worksheet to further explore their understanding of intimacy and any challenges that impact their interpersonal relationships. 
  8. Journaling can be an effective tool for clients to verbalize their thoughts and emotions, as well as to keep track of their own progress. Clients who are struggling with depressive symptoms, or the other concerns addressed with Interpersonal Therapy, may find this to be a healthy coping skill for their day-to-day lives. Journaling can be a structured activity where they are asked to write about something similar each day, or a free-form opportunity to write about whatever is coming up for them. Holding onto previous journal entries provides clients with an opportunity to reflect on challenges and successes they have had which can increase their confidence about their ability to cope with their distress.
  9. Helping our clients learn healthy and effective communication can be a valuable Interpersonal Therapy exercise. Healthy communication can improve interpersonal relationships, and allow our clients to establish and maintain healthy boundaries within their relationships. TherapyByPro offers a DBT worksheet that aims to improve our client’s communication, the DEARMAN Assertive Worksheet. Following a DBT approach, this worksheet can help clients improve their communications pattern with the use of a simple acronym. Encourage your clients to use the DEARMAN strategy outside of the session, and allow for time to process their experience in session.   
  10. After talking to clients about healthy communication patterns, such as DEARMAN and I-statements, clients can benefit from a role-playing exercise that allows them to practice the skill they were just introduced to. Role-playing exercises provide Counselors with an opportunity to see what our client has taken away from related psychoeducation topics and provide feedback that can be used to improve their communication patterns. This can be an effective IPT exercise for clients who are working to establish and maintain boundaries, improve communication, and improve their validation skills.

Final Thoughts on Choosing Interpersonal Therapy Exercises for your Clients

Thank you for reading this resource on 10 Interpersonal Therapy exercises & activities to do with your clients. The National Institute of Mental Health has identified major depression as one of the most common mental health concerns among adults living in the United States. The impact that depression symptoms can have on a person’s level of functioning varies for each individual. Some may find that they struggle with finding motivation, while other may experience suicidal concerns. There are several therapeutic interventions that can be effective in the treatment of major depression, however, with personal differences among clients there is no “cookie-cutter” approach for the treatment of depression.

Interpersonal Therapy can be an effective treatment option for individuals who have not responded to other treatment modalities, and those who may have limited time to devote to therapy. IPT exercises and activities can be used to effectively reinforce skills needed to improve our client’s ability to cope with their distress and work to improve the belief that they are capable of managing their mental health concerns.

If you are interested in learning more about Interpersonal Therapy, we encourage you to explore continuing education opportunities and specialized training workshops that can help you develop the skills and knowledge to develop your competency in using this therapeutic approach.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

  • Sale! Interpersonal Therapy Worksheets Bundle PDF Templates
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View all of our Interpersonal Therapy Worksheets

Resources:

  • Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: Systems,  strategies, and skills (3rd Edition, pp 120-121). Pearson Education, Inc.
Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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