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25 Questions to ask Clients in Interpersonal Therapy

For those of us who work with clients who struggle with mood disorders, a common treatment approach would include the use of psychotropic medications and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can provide our clients with a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment to be their true selves while they work through the challenges that they’re experiencing. Being familiar with the different therapeutic approaches that can be used, you can make an informed decision about which would be the best for your client and their unique needs. Keep reading to learn 25 Interpersonal Therapy questions you can ask clients in therapy sessions.

Interpersonal therapy is a time-limited, and evidence-based therapeutic approach for individuals who are living with depression and mood disorders. Typically, IPT occurs over the course of 12 to 16 weeks, with respect to individual differences.  Two principles that are associated with IPT include:

  • To begin, depression is not caused by a personal defect or the individual themselves. Rather, it is a treatable medical illness.
  • Additionally, challenging life events can trigger or follow the onset of various mood disorders. Therefore, mood disruptions and life events are related. Examples of life events that can contribute to the development of a mood disorder include complicated bereavement, a role dispute, and a role transition.

Interpersonal therapy sessions can often feel laid back and client-focused. Time may be spent exploring and processing your client’s interpersonal experiences since their last session. You may find yourself celebrating successes and risks that your client took, as well as supporting them when they struggle. When clients find themselves experiencing hardships, processing the situation can provide clinicians with an opportunity to introduce and review skills that could be used in similar situations in the future. 

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Getting Ready for Your First Interpersonal Therapy Session with a New Client

Interpersonal Therapy differs from other popular therapeutic approaches because therapy sessions follow a structured order. Because of this, IPT is not intended to be used on a long-term basis and is recommended to be used for 12-16 sessions, depending on the progression of your time together.

For clinicians who are using interpersonal therapy, the first session with a new client will focus on exploring and learning about the challenges and symptoms that your client is experiencing. You will also be providing your client with knowledge about the treatment of mental health concerns using IPT and its known effectiveness. Clients should be encouraged to ask questions throughout to ensure they have a thorough understanding of what they can expect.

Additionally, time will be spent clarifying the roles of the clinician and client within the interpersonal therapy framework and discussing treatment expectations.  

Before meeting with a new client, you may find it helpful to review or familiarize the documentation that your clinical setting requires you to complete. This can include assessments, screeners, a biopsychosocial assessment, and various consents of release that are to be completed. This step can vary in intensity given your familiarity with the appropriate paperwork.

Your clinical setting may also ask clients to complete documentation before they meet with you. Reviewing this can give you some insight into what your client is experiencing and the overall level of distress that they are living with. 

Lastly, as mental health professionals we are entrusted with private and personal information. This is a responsibility that we carry daily. A realistic effect of this is that we may find ourselves being impacted by the stories and information that we learn in session. Because of this, it is important that we are diligent about our own self-care and mental health wellness. If you have time in your workday to take a walk, listen to music, or engage in meditation, you may find that you are able to focus better during your day. Regular self-care and wellness practices can be incorporated into your routine outside of work to promote your own health and wellness. 

Common Questions to Ask in Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy questions can be used to engage clients in the various stages of IPT. IPT questions can be tailored to each client and their needs, which provides them with individualized care.

Examples of interpersonal therapy questions that can be used during therapy sessions include:

  1. Can you share with me a bit about your experience and what has brought you in today?
  2. Can you describe the impact that your mental health has had on your life? This can include your relationships, work, motivation, and hobbies.
  3. What changes would you see in your life when your mental health improves?
  4. Can you share with me what relationships are important to you?
  5. How do you define healthy relationships? Are there any examples in your life?
  6. How do you define unhealthy relationships? Are there any examples in your life?
  7. How comfortable are you sharing your thoughts, concerns, and emotions within your relationships? Are there any relationships that you have a harder time doing this with?
  8. What does trust in a relationship mean and look like for you?
  9. What behaviors of yours do you feel allow others to develop trust with you?
  10. Are there any changes that you could make to your behaviors or communication patterns that could improve trust within your relationships?
  11. Can you tell me about a time when you were able to successfully navigate a challenge within a relationship?
  12. Can you tell me about a time you struggled to navigate a challenge within a relationship? Looking at that situation now, is there anything you might do differently?
  13. How effective do you feel you are at communicating your thoughts, emotions, and concerns?
  14. Can you describe a time when you felt as though the individual you were talking to heard you? Tell me about how you communicated in that situation. You may find that using worksheets, such as this Wanting to be Heard Worksheet can be used to provide psychoeducation as well as help you facilitate IPT questions while in session.
  15.  Can you share a time when you felt as though you were unable to clearly or effectively communicate your thoughts or emotions.
  16. Have you found any coping skills or behaviors that help you cope with your distress? How often do you find yourself using these skills throughout the day?
  17. If you woke up tomorrow with none of your current concerns or challenges, what would be different about your day?
  18. Can you share some of your long-term and short-term goals?
  19. Can we explore how your goals impact your overall mental health? As an example, goals can be motivating or they can create stress and worry.
  20. If you introduce your client to various DBT skills such as distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and mindfulness, you can follow this by asking your client how they see themselves using these skills in their day-to-day lives. Is there one that they feel may be a better fit than the others? Do they have any hesitations or concerns about these skills?
  21. How do you feel the values you hold influence your behaviors? Are there any changes that you could make to your behaviors that would better support your personal values?
  22. DEARMAN is a commonly used DBT skill that can be introduced to help our clients improve interpersonal effectiveness. TherapyByPro offers a DEARMAN Assertive Communication Worksheet that can be used to guide clients in the use of this skill. After reviewing the worksheet with your client, you can follow up with relevant interpersonal therapy questions such as:
    • How do you see this skill impacting your communication skills?
    • How do you feel about expressing your feelings and accountability?
    • What skills do you feel would help you remain calm in a difficult situation?
  23. Would you feel comfortable doing a role play practicing the skills we just spoke about?
  24. Can you share with me your understanding of mindfulness? Has there been a time in the past when you have used any mindfulness skills? Did you find them to be helpful?
  25. Are there any barriers or concerns that you have about using the skills that we have talked about? How can I support you with these barriers?

Final Thoughts On Asking the Right Questions in IPT Therapy

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog about interpersonal therapy questions! As clinicians, we work to use insightful and thoughtful questions to help our clients explore their world. The questions that we ask can guide the conversation, follow up on psychoeducation, and reinforce important topics of conversation.

Since interpersonal therapy has a limited-time approach, it is not uncommon for it to be used in addition to other therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Regardless of the therapeutic intervention being used, it is important that we look at our clients as a person rather than focusing on their symptoms. By doing this, we can provide them with a tailored approach that better supports them in their mental health journey.

If you are interested in learning more about interpersonal therapy, we encourage you to explore the different Continuing Education courses and other training opportunities near you. After you have developed your understanding of IPT and its interventions, you can then begin practicing using your knowledge in an appropriate clinical setting to build your competency. You can then begin applying your new knowledge to your clinical practice.

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View all of our Interpersonal Therapy Worksheets


  • Markowitz, J. C., & Weissman, M. M. (2004). Interpersonal psychotherapy: principles and applications. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 3(3), 136–139.

Kayla Loibl, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LCMHC

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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