10 IPT Therapy Activities & Exercises to do with your Clients in Therapy

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. Keep reading to learn 10 IPT Therapy activities and exercises to do with your clients in therapy.

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Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) acknowledges the significance of childhood experiences in relation to later distress in life. It is believed that individuals who undergo a loss of a parent, experience death or disruption in their parental relationship, are more susceptible to developing depression later in life (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Consequently, individuals who have had such childhood experiences, coupled with stressful events and experiences in adulthood, have a heightened risk of experiencing depressive symptoms (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

As a brief psychodynamic approach, IPT is designed for short-term intervention. Typically, IPT consists of 14 to 18 weekly individual sessions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). The core focuses of IPT include addressing interpersonal deficits, exploring role expectations and disputes, examining role transitions, and addressing grief (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

There are three phases used during Interpersonal Therapy sessions:

  1. In the initial sessions of Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), the focus is on assessing the client’s symptoms and exploring their experiences related to the different areas of interpersonal difficulties (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors also provide psychoeducation about IPT and highlight that depression can be effectively treated using this therapeutic approach (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
  2. During the intermediate phase, clients are encouraged to discuss and present specific problems or interpersonal challenges identified in the earlier sessions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Collaboratively, the counselor and client work on setting goals and explore strategies to achieve those goals (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). The counselor empowers the client to take responsibility for their therapy sessions as much as possible (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).
  3. In the termination phase, which typically spans the final 2-4 sessions, careful planning takes place (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). This phase involves exploring and accepting any feelings of anger, sadness, loss, or grief that may arise (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors ensure that clients recognize and believe in their capacity to manage distressing emotions and move forward independently as therapy concludes (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

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

Why Interpersonal Therapy?

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a time-limited, evidence-based therapeutic approach that may be chosen for several compelling reasons:

  1. Effective for Depression: IPT is particularly effective for the treatment of depression. It has a strong evidence base, demonstrating its effectiveness in reducing depressive symptoms and improving overall well-being.
  2. Focused on Relationships: IPT focuses on interpersonal relationships and their impact on an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. It helps individuals address interpersonal difficulties and conflicts.
  3. Structured and Goal-Oriented: IPT is structured and goal-oriented, typically consisting of a specific number of sessions with clearly defined treatment goals. This structured approach can provide individuals with a sense of direction and progress.
  4. Identification of Interpersonal Patterns: IPT helps individuals identify patterns in their relationships that contribute to their emotional distress, facilitating greater self-awareness and insight.
  5. Communication Skills: It equips individuals with improved communication skills, helping them express their thoughts and feelings more effectively and navigate conflicts in healthier ways.
  6. Grief and Loss: IPT is effective for addressing grief and loss, helping individuals process and come to terms with the death of a loved one or other significant losses.
  7. Role Transitions: IPT assists individuals in managing major life changes and role transitions, such as marriage, divorce, retirement, or becoming a parent, which can be emotionally challenging.
  8. Interpersonal Disputes: It helps individuals address and resolve interpersonal disputes and conflicts that may contribute to their emotional distress.
  9. Short-Term and Long-Term Benefits: Many individuals who complete IPT report not only a reduction in their current symptoms but also a decreased risk of relapse in the future.
  10. Enhanced Interpersonal Functioning: IPT can lead to improved interpersonal functioning and healthier relationships, which can have a positive impact on an individual’s overall quality of life.
  11. Transdiagnostic Application: While primarily used for depression, IPT can be adapted to address a range of interpersonal issues and emotional difficulties, making it suitable for clients with diverse concerns.
  12. Cultural Sensitivity: IPT can be applied with cultural sensitivity, respecting diverse cultural perspectives and values.
  13. Positive Therapeutic Relationship: IPT emphasizes the therapeutic relationship, providing a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore and address their interpersonal challenges.
  14. Adaptable for Group Therapy: While traditionally used for individual therapy, IPT principles can also be adapted for group therapy settings.

While IPT offers numerous benefits, it is important to consider individual preferences and needs when selecting a therapy approach. IPT may be particularly well-suited for those seeking to improve their relationships, address interpersonal conflicts, and alleviate symptoms of depression or other emotional distress related to interpersonal issues. Keep reading to learn IPT activities you can do with your clients.

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Interpersonal Therapy

IPT was originally developed to address depression in individuals. Extensive research has demonstrated that IPT can be equally effective as antidepressant medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating individuals with depressive symptoms (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010).

In addition to major depressive disorder, Interpersonal Therapy is also applicable in the treatment of individuals facing distressing symptoms associated with complicated grief, conflicts within interpersonal relationships and roles, deficits in interpersonal skills, and transitions in life roles (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. TherapyPatron.com 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. Teaching clients about what they can do to provide themselves with validation can be an important skill to include in an IPT activity. TherapyPatron.com 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,
  3. TherapyPatron.com has developed a Validating Others Worksheet which can be used to improve interpersonal effectiveness within relationships.
    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. TherapyPatron.com 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. TherapyPatron.com 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.
  9. 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. TherapyPatron.com 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.
  10. 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.

Final Thoughts on Choosing Interpersonal Therapy Exercises for your Clients

Thank you for reading this resource on 10 Interpersonal Therapy activities and exercises 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 offers a valuable treatment alternative for individuals who have not found success with other therapeutic approaches or those with limited availability for therapy. By incorporating IPT exercises and activities, counselors can effectively reinforce the essential skills necessary for clients to enhance their coping abilities and foster a belief in their capacity to manage their mental health concerns.

If you’re interested in deepening your understanding of Interpersonal Therapy, we encourage you to explore continuing education opportunities and specialized training workshops. These resources can provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge to enhance your competence in utilizing this therapeutic approach.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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