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Q4. Discuss the techniques used in interpersonal therapy.

It is the focus on extra-therapeutic interpersonal relationships rather than any particular intervention which characterizes IPT. Not surprisingly, given its psychodynamic roots, IPT incorporates a number of “traditional” psychotherapeutic methods, such as exploration, clarification, and even some directive techniques.

The techniques used in interpersonal therapy are discussed below:

Nonspecific Techniques

Nonspecific techniques are generally understood as those that are held in common across most psychotherapies. Examples would be the use of Directive and Non-Directive techniques such as open-ended questions, clarifications, and the expression of empathy by the therapist.

These techniques play a crucial role in IPT, as they serve to help the therapist understand the patient’s experience, convey that understanding to the patient, and to provide information regarding the genesis of the patient’s problems
and potential solutions to them.

Techniques such as problem solving with the patient, giving directives, and assigning homework can also be used judiciously in the service of facilitating interpersonal change.

Communication Analysis and Interpersonal Incidents

Communication analysis requires that the therapist elicit information from the patient about important interpersonal incidents. Interpersonal incidents are descriptions by the patient of specific interactions with a significant other.

The goal in working through an interpersonal incident is to examine the patient’s communication so that maladaptive patterns of communication can be identified. The patient can then begin to modify his or her communication so that his or her attachment needs are better met.

Use of Affect

The more the patient is affectively involved in the issues being discussed, the greater the motivation to change behavior or communication style. Consequently, one of the most important tasks for the IPT therapist is to attend to the patient’s affective state. 

Of particular importance are those moments in therapy in which the patient’s observed affective state, and his or her subjectively reported affect, are incongruent. Examining this inconsistency in affect can often lead to breakthroughs in therapy.

Use of Transference

By observing the developing transference, the therapist can begin to draw hypotheses about the way that the patient interacts with others outside of the therapeutic relationship. Sullivan coined the term “parataxic distortion” to describe this phenomena: The way in which a patient relates to the therapist in session is a reflection of the way in which he or she relates to others as well. 

Using these data, the therapist can then begin to draw conclusions about the patient’s attachment style and problems in communicating to others. The therapist should ask questions to confirm or disprove these hypotheses. 

* * *

IPT is a time-limited, dynamically informed psychotherapy that aims to alleviate patients’ suffering and improve their interpersonal functioning. To achieve these objectives it makes use of several techniques viz. Directive and non-directive exploration, Clarifications, Communication Analysis and Interpersonal incidents, Use of Affect and Use of Transference.


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