Interpersonal Psychotherapy: An Interview with Dr. Scott Stuart

Posted: August 25, 2017 at 5:04 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


I’m thrilled to share that this September, San Diego’s Postpartum Health Alliance will be offering two trainings in Interpersonal Psychotherapy: IPT Level A, and IPT for Group.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Dr. Scott Stuart, the Director of the International Psychotherapy Institute (link: https://iptinstitute.com/about-ipt/about-ipt-institute/) and learn more about what sets IPT apart from other modalities. Dr. Stuart has provided training in IPT for clinicians and supervisors in over 30 countries, and has been doing teaching, research and clinical work in IPT for over 2 decades. He has a particular interest in serving the perinatal population, though as you will learn, IPT is an effective modality for working with many presenting issues and populations.

For those unfamiliar with IPT, I want to provide a general overview of IPT and why it is particularly effective for treating PMADS before we dive into our conversation.

What is Interpersonal Psychotherapy?

Interpersonal psychotherapy was developed by Klerman and Weissman in the 1970s and is a highly structured, time-limited, manual-based treatment that targets depressive symptoms by focusing on three types of interpersonal problems: grief and loss, interpersonal disputes, and role transitions [1].

IPT for perinatal mental health is a particularly effective treatment that focuses on the important interpersonal changes and challenges that women experience during pregnancy and the postpartum period. It’s an evidence-based treatment for perinatal depression and a safe and effective alternative to pharmacotherapy, especially for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding.  IPT reduces depressive symptoms and improves social adjustment. For women with psychotic features, bipolarity, or severe symptoms, including suicidal or infanticide thoughts, IPT alone is not sufficient, and a combination of medications and possibly hospitalization should be considered [2].

 Our conversation with Dr. Scott Stuart

Q: What are the key features of IPT that distinguish it from other treatment methods?

Dr. Stuart: IPT deals with the bread and butter issues that people bring in to therapy, such as anxiety, depression, mourning, loss, and interpersonal problems generally.  IPT addresses people’s social functioning and social support, which has a lot to do with how they’re coping with life’s challenges. The approach is helpful for those struggling with grief and loss, and depression (though a diagnosis of depression isn’t required). It’s ideal for the perinatal period, as IPT addresses major changes in one’s lives, such as a new baby or an unexpected pregnancy, or loss of a pregnancy or child.

In addition to its value in working with the perinatal population, any situation which causes distress, anxiety and/or depression can be approached and treated using IPT. Challenges with relationships with family members or friends, a move, immigration status or a threat of deportation are other common issues that are often addressed using interpersonal psychotherapy. IPT can be used trans-diagnostically to treat a wide variety of interpersonal problems and losses people face.

Dr. Stuart describes a typical client he often works with as a family who has a premature baby that spends time in the NICU and sustains a disability. IPT addresses the family’s loss of an anticipated healthy child, grieving the loss of what was expected.

Q: Why would a clinician should choose IPT over a trauma-based therapy like EMDR for the case like this one mentioned above?

Dr. Stuart: Nearly every difficulty people face has some interpersonal challenge, including trauma. All traumatic experiences also involve interpersonal experiences, For example, every trauma impacts our relationships and every relationship has the ability to impact how we face trauma. IPT prioritizes helping clients develop interpersonal support.

When a trauma is experienced or someone is suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they may lose the capacity to put their experience into words. They may lose the ability to explain their experience to others and express their needs to family and friends. They often feel isolated and that nobody understands them. IPT provides tools for therapists to facilitate healing. In our trainings, therapists learn how to use unique assessment tools, such as the Interpersonal Inventory and Timeline. Therapists learn how clients benefit from psychoeducation. Through role playing, therapists practice communication skills in the area of empathy and psychoeducation.

Q: Please tell us more about the format of the training and what clinicians can expect to learn.

Dr. Stuart: We don’t just review what IPT is but we teach you HOW to do the therapy through cases, videos and in vivo practicing. We believe that people learn better by doing rather than reading or watching. We teach participants simple, yet highly effective tools that are easily accessible and helpful across most modalities.

One of the more unique aspects of the training is that we teach therapists not only what to do in a situation but HOW TO BE. Text books tell us to be empathic, but what exactly does that mean when you are a male therapist working with a woman who is struggling with infertility or breast cancer? What do you say? HOW do you actually BE with her in a way that’s supportive and helpful and as opposed to simply doing what a therapy manual says you’re supposed to do? We help translate the concept of empathy into interventions that heal. We help therapists fine tune their language and how to create affect resonance.

Training information

Thank you Dr. Stuart for taking the time to share more about your upcoming IPT training in San Diego. We hope you will join us September 13/14 for IPT for Individuals, and/or September 16/17 for IPT for Group. Space is limited so register today! Members of PHA (link https://postpartumhealthalliance.org/membership/) receive a 40% discount for each training. That’s in addition to all the wonderful benefits of membership you can learn about in the link above.

Register here for IPT for Individuals (Link: https://iptinstitute.com/events/ipt-level-a-training-san-diego-ca-september-13-14-2017/)

Register here for IPT for Group: (Link: https://iptinstitute.com/events/ipt-for-groups-training-san-diego-ca-september-15-16-2017/)

For any additional questions about the training, please reach out to: info@postpartumhealthalliance.org.


  1. Stuart, S., Robertson, M. (2012). Interpersonal Psychotherapy, A Clinician’s Guide (2nd Ed). London, Taylor and Francis.
  2. Grigoriadis, S., & Ravitz, P. (2007). An approach to interpersonal psychotherapy for postpartum depression Focusing on interpersonal changes. Can Fam Physician, 53(9), 1469-1475.