Developing interpersonal psychotherapy.pdf
Developing Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) in Gloucestershire
This paper describes IPT; its evidence base and uses. It also explains how IPT has
been developed in Gloucestershire so far and sets out a vision for the future. What is IPT?
IPT is a short to medium term, manualised psychological therapy that was originally
devised for the treatment of depression within randomised controlled trials of anti-
depressants versus psychotherapy1. It focuses on changing current
relationship problems. The therapy consists of 3 phases conducted weekly over 12-16
sessions. Phase 1
Phase 1 is essentially a period of assessment and formulation, but IPT for depression
permits education of the patient regarding depression and its effects, as well as initial
advice about management of symptoms and anti-depressant medication. The patient is
orientated to the treatment, given the “sick role” and then a thorough inventory of
their relationships is undertaken. Interpersonal problems are related to periods of
depression and the therapist negotiates that a small number of difficulties become the
focus of the remaining therapy.
IPT conceptualises interpersonal problems in one of four ways: Grief
– unresolved grief following the loss of an important person. Interpersonal Disputes
– conflicts between individuals regarding differing
expectations, either overt or covert. Role Transition
– difficulties experienced adapting to changes in role throughout the
stages of life. This could include divorce, cha nge of job, home etc. Social Deficit
– the absence of any socially supportive relationships. Phase 2
During phase 1, the therapist asks a series of questions to elicit information. In phase
2, the emphasis is on the patient to take the lead discussing the agreed problem areas.
The therapist is active in encouraging the patient to explore issues in detail and to
consider alternative ways to bring about change. The therapist style is non-directive,
but actively maintains the focus on the agreed topics. Phase 3
Consists of the final 3 sessions, which are spaced at fortnightly intervals. Progress is reviewed, and relapse prevention discussed.
Has IPT been adapted for other conditions?
IPT has been adapted for several other conditions including bulimia nervosa, binge
eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, social phobia, anxiety disorders, borderline
personality disorder and substance abuse2, 3. Although IPT was originally intended for
the treatment of acute depression, it has also been developed with specific populations
i.e. depressed adolescents, depressed older people, bi-polar disorder and as a
maintenance treatment for people with chronic relapsing depression2, 3.
What evidence is there for its effectiveness?
IPT has been shown to be an effective treatment for major depressive
disorder, equalling the effects of CBT4.
Bulimia nervosa –
IPT is an effective treatment for bulimia nervosa. It acts less
rapidly than CBT, but achieves similar effects at one- year outcome5. Binge eating disorder –
IPT achieves similar results to CBT5.
Why is IPT relevant to Gloucestershire mental health services?
A report on psychological services within the NHS supported the use of IPT for
depression and bulimia nervosa6. NICE are currently looking at eating disorders and
will be considering depression later this year7, 8. Given the evidence base for IPT for
these two disorders, it is highly likely that NICE will recommend that IPT should be
available within mental health services.
What would be the advantages of supporting the development of IPT?
IPT is an effective therapy for interpersonal problems and as such has the capacity to
be used for a range of psychiatric disorders. Unlike CBT, the adaptations are minor
and once trained, therapists could treat a range of disorders without needing further
IPT has been successfully used with adolescent, working age adult and elderly
populations. It offers the opportunity to clinicians from these care groups to share
clinical supervision utilising the same therapeutic model.
The training is relatively short as the skills base required to practise IPT incorporates
usual good clinical practice. The discipline involved in learning to follow a
manualised approach can have positive beneficial effects on clinicians’ wider practise.
IPT has already been proposed as a sensible choice for psychotherapy training for
What impact would there be on current service delivery?
Patients who require some form of psychological therapy as well as medication and
review are already being treated using other eclectic therapeutic approaches or
therapies with little or no evidence base (excluding CBT). IPT is flexible enough to be
practised by both psychological therapy teams and CMHTs. The number of sessions
can be tailored to the needs of the patient, as there is no set programme to deliver once
phase 2 has begun.
Clinicians would need time to attend the initial training and supervision course and
would then need to be able to attend regular group supervision in Gloucestershire for
a couple of hours each month. What IPT training and therapy is already available in Gloucestershire?
Professor Christopher Fairburn (University of Oxford) has provided a 2-day IPT
introductory course in Gloucestershire on 3 occasions. 2 cohorts of staff have
subsequently attended the group supervision in Oxford. The supervision consists of 6
half days during which attendees share case discussions, with Professor Fairburn
providing clinical supervision regarding adherence to the model. Each attendee also
submits 3 audiotapes of clinical sessions to Professor Fairburn, who listens to them
and provides written feedback. Successful completion of the supervision course leads
to the provision of a certificate of competence from Professor Fairburn.
This training meets the requirement of IPT UK for the first level of IPT training.
An IPT supervision group has met monthly for over one year in Gloucester. Members
consist of clinicians that have completed the supervision in Oxford. This group also
meets with Professor Fairburn quarterly for supervision and development purposes.
How could IPT be developed further?
It would make sense to continue to train at least one cohort of six staff per year, to
ensure that the number of staff fully trained continues to slowly grow (bearing in
mind there will be some wastage of staff over time). This would require an adequate
number of staff to have undertaken the 2-day introduction course and funding for the
supervision course. The Regional Workforce Development Confederation has
provided funding on two previous occasions.
A provisional aim would be that IPT could become available within each care group,
followed by each PCT area and finally each local mental health team. This
programme of development would take some years to achieve.
Within the next 2-3 years, it would be likely that local clinicians would have
sufficient clinical expertise and experience of supervision within the model to provide
training locally “in- house”, and even offer training to other areas to generate income
and develop the Trust as a centre of excellence in IPT. Professor Fairburn has already
encouraged the current IPT group members to consider taking this on.
This option would require support for a few key individuals to continue to develop
skills via supervisor training courses and attendance at IPT conferences.
How much would it cost?
2003 prices: 2-Day introduction course:
£2000 plus cost of refreshments. Previous courses have had about 60 attendees and
have generated income by selling places to other areas. Supervision course in Oxford:
£7500 plus cost of travel for 6 attendees. Occasional supervision with Professor Fairburn
£500 per half day session. Conclusion
IPT is an adaptable, easily learned evidence based treatment for depression and
bulimia nervosa. It is currently being tested for several other disorders. Local
development of IPT offers the opportunity to enhance the quality of service delivery
and invest relatively cheaply in multi-disciplinary staff training.
Eating Disorders Project
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Markowitz, J.C. (1998) Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Dysthymic Disorder Washington DC, Am. Psychiatric Press
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