Interpersonal Therapy What Is It?

Interpersonal therapy focuses on social roles and relationships. The patient works with a therapist to evaluate specific problem areas in the patient’s life, such as conflicts with family or friends or significant life changes. While past experiences help inform the process, interpersonal therapy focuses on improving relationships in the present.

Interpersonal therapy is typically short-term (lasting two to four months or until symptoms subside), though it can continue up to two to three years depending on the patient’s needs. Interpersonal therapy focuses on four basic problem areas:

  • Role disputes
  • Role transitions
  • Unresolved grief
  • Interpersonal deficits

The goals of interpersonal therapy include identifying problems, expressing emotions in healthy ways and learning skills to improve current relationships.


Interpersonal therapy is unique in that it focuses on one or two specific problem areas and is designed to bring about a rapid reduction in symptoms. Other benefits include:

  • Improved relationships
  • Skills for coping in healthier ways
  • Enhanced problem-solving and communication skills
  • Ability to process grief or loss in a safe environment
  • Reduction of self-destructive or hostile behaviors


Research supports interpersonal therapy as a tool to treat depression. It has also been adapted to treat other disorders, including:

  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Dysthymia

Motivational Interviewing


Motivational interviewing is a client-centered counseling approach that emphasizes building the client’s motivation to change. The client explores ideas and develops their own motivation rather than having change imposed by the therapist.

Collaboration is the foundation of the therapist-client relationship. The therapist’s role is to guide clients toward making changes rather than confronting the client or encouraging non-directed self-exploration.

Once a strong rapport is established, the therapist can begin drawing out the client’s ideas and offering new ways to look at things. As they explore the benefits and drawbacks of each course of action, the client decides how they want to proceed based on their own goals and values.

Motivational interviewing recognizes that clients may be at different stages of readiness to change. Although the therapist doesn’t have to agree with the client’s perspective, the goal is mutual understanding and empathy, not one person being right and the other being wrong.

Motivational interviewing is based on four primary principles:

  • Empathy for the client’s perspective
  • Developing discrepancy (drawing contrasts between how the client wants their life to be and how they are currently behaving)
  • Accepting resistance rather than engaging in power struggles
  • Supporting autonomy (understanding and accepting the client’s choices rather than serving as an authority figure who tells them what to do)

By making the client aware of the natural consequences of their choices, the therapist helps clients envision the future they want and the change required to achieve their goals. With increased motivation, clients are able to make changes that are long-lasting (because they chose them) and feel confident in their choices.


Motivational interviewing promotes healthy decision-making and personal accountability and has been shown to improve medical adherence. Other benefits include:

Long-Term Change. Motivational interviewing emphasizes long-term change rather than short-term compliance. The desire to change comes from within the client rather than being imposed by the therapist, which increases the likelihood that changes will be long-lasting.

Empowerment. The therapist serves as a trusted guide and mentor rather than an authority figure. Because the client is in charge of making changes, they feel empowered and are in a position that requires that they take responsibility for their actions.


Research supports the use of motivational interviewing to treat a variety of conditions including drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues. Motivational interviewing can also be highly effective when treating troubled teens who are struggling with defiance, academic underachievement or self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse.