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Interpersonal Therapy May Prevent Future Depressive Episodes

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. is a licensed Psychologist in the state of Ohio (License #6083). She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from ...Read More

A new study (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2007, Vol 164, pages 761-767) suggests that maintaining therapy gains through a monthly "booster session" can help women with recurrent major depression prevent future episodes of the illness. Study results should be good news for people who do not want to or are unable (e.g., pregnant or nursing women) to take antidepressant medications for long periods of time.

The current study was specifically focused on a short-term form of psychotherapy known as IPT or interpersonal therapy. IPT focuses on interpersonal stressors (e.g., grief over a recent death or loss); role transitions (e.g., getting married, being demoted, being ill, becoming a parent); interpersonal disputes (e.g., a prolonged conflict with a significant other); or skills deficits that promote social withdrawal and impairment (e.g., people who avoid work social functions because they don’t know how to approach people and/or make small talk) as the cause or contributing factors related to depression.

In the study, 99 women who were successfully treated for depression with IPT alone, and 90 women who were treated with a combination of IPT and an SSRI antidepressant medication were randomly assigned to receive maintenance IPT (i.e., focused on preventing future depressive episodes) at once a week, twice per month, or once per month intervals over the course of two years.

74 of the original 99 women in the IPT-only group completed the two-year maintenance phase. 74% of this group of women did not experience a recurrence of depression for those two years. Women who initially improved with a combination IPT and antidepressant therapy fared worse. 26 of the original 32 participants receiving combination therapy completed the maintenance phase, and 50% had a recurrence of depression. In both groups there was no significant difference in recurrence rates between women who received maintenance IPT weekly, bi-monthly or monthly.

Readers with depression should be careful when making conclusions about the results of this study. IPT is not appropriate for or helpful to all people with depressive symptoms. Previous research has also suggested that for some people, maintenance antidepressant therapy and maintenance cognitive behavioral therapy are also effective in preventing a future recurrence of depression. Still other research suggests that a combination of antidepressant and psychotherapy is the best option. Even though it might seem frustrating and slow, maintaining an open mind and experimenting with different treatment strategies in partnership with a mental health professional can allow you to find the best therapy for you.

Keep Reading By Author Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D.
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