Interpersonal psychotherapy: creating community and support

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By Scott Stuart for the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Scott Stuart
Scott Stuart

Despite inflammatory political, religious, ethnic, and gender diatribes which argue for divisiveness, we are all humans. We are born, we die, and in between we form relationships. This is the essence of being human, and we share it with every other human being on the planet.

We also suffer. The forms of our suffering vary across age, geography and circumstance, but we suffer nonetheless. People close to us become ill and die. We struggle with cancer, AIDS, diabetes. We lose our jobs, we lose important relationships. We have conflict with those we love and with those we cannot avoid. These too are part of the human condition.

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is one method of dealing with this suffering, and it is of particular relevance because it touches on the fundamental issues of being human: love, conflict, loss, change. IPT has been used as a treatment for depression, anxiety, eating problems, personality and relationship problems — for suffering — around the world. It works well because of its clear focus on human relationships, social support, and community.

Unlike psychoanalysis or other long-term psychotherapies that were prevalent decades ago, IPT is short-term and is designed to help people recover from depression and other forms of suffering quickly. IPT is crisis-focused, and treatment may last only six to 16 weeks with some maintenance care to keep people well once they’ve recovered.

The short-term nature of IPT and its emphasis on loss and relationship makes it particularly suitable for interpersonal crises of all kinds. As one example, IPT is used in the Women’s Wellness and Counseling Service at UI Hospitals and Clincs.

The Women’s Wellness Service is designed specifically for women (and their families) who may be suffering from postpartum depression, depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or who are suffering from pregnancy or postpartum losses, miscarriages, or problems with the baby’s health. We also work with couples undergoing infertility treatment and other reproductively-related mental health and wellness issues.

The WorldCanvass television and radio program Thursday will provide a review of IPT and how it is used around the world. In addition to cultural adaptations, we’ll be discussing different ways of delivering psychological care around the world, as well as the ways health care systems provide psychiatric care. And we’ll talk about how many of those systems are far better than our system in the U.S., and what we can learn from them.

The program will be recorded at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol and is free and the public is invited to attend.

We find strength in community. We love other people, and are loved by them. In the face of loss, conflict, and change, we can discover our shared humanity and connect with one another. We transcend our suffering by loving others and knowing that we are loved.

Scott Stuart teaches psychiatry at the University of Iowa.

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