Skip to main content

A systematic review of research findings on the efficacy of interpersonal therapy for depressive disorders



Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a time–limited psychotherapy for major depression. The aim of this study is to summarize findings from controlled trials of the efficacy of IPT in the treatment of depressive spectrum disorders (DSD) using a meta–analytic approach.


Studies of randomized clinical trials of IPT efficacy were located by searching all available data bases from 1974 to 2002. The searches employed the following MeSH categories: Depression/ Depressive Disorder; Interpersonal therapy; Outcome/Adverse Effects/Efficacy; in the identified studies. The efficacy outcomes were: remission; clinical improvement; the difference in depressive symptoms between the two arms of the trial at endpoint, and no recurrence. Drop out rates were used as an index of treatment acceptability.


Thirteen studies fulfilled inclusion criteria and four meta–analyses were performed. IPT was superior in efficacy to placebo in nine studies (Weight Mean Difference (WMD) – 3.57 [–5.9, –1.16]). The combination of IPT and medication did not show an adjunctive effect compared to medication alone for acute treatment (RR 0.78 [0.30, 2.04]), for maintenance treatment (RR 1.01 [0.81, 1.25]), or for prophylactic treatment (RR 0.70 [0.30, 1.65]). IPT was significantly better than CBT (WMD –2.16 [–4.16,–0.15]).


The efficacy of IPT proved to be superior to placebo, similar to medication and did not increase when combined with medication. Overall, IPT was more efficacious than CBT. Current evidence indicates that IPT is an efficacious psychotherapy for DSD and may be superior to some other manualized psychotherapies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    APA (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Association

  2. 2.

    Bolton P, Bass J, et al. (2003) Group interpersonal psychotherapy for depression in rural Uganda: a randomized controlled trial. Jama 289(23):3117–3124

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Brown C, Schulberg HC, et al. (1996) Treatment outcomes for primary care patients with major depression and lifetime anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry 153(10):1293–1300

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Browne G, Steiner M, et al. (2002) Sertraline and/or interpersonal psychotherapy for patients with dysthymic disorder in primary care: 6-month comparison with longitudinal 2-year follow-up of effectiveness and costs. J Affect Disord 68(2–3):317–330

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Coulehan JL, Schulberg HC, et al. (1997) Treating depressed primary care patients improves their physical, mental, and social functioning. Arch Intern Med 157(10):1113–1120

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Department of Health and Human Services, A. f.H.C. P. a.R (1993) Depression Guideline Panel: Clinical Practice Guideline: Depression in Primary Care Vol 1–4.Rockville, MD, Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research

  7. 7.

    DiMascio A, Weissman MM, et al. (1979) Differential symptom reduction by drugs and psychotherapy in acute depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 36(13):1450–1456

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Elkin I, Shea MT, et al. (1989) National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program. General effectiveness of treatments. Arch Gen Psychiatry 46(11):971–982; discussion 983

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Frank E, Hlastala S, et al. (1997) Inducing lifestyle regularity in recovering bipolar disorder patients: results from the maintenance therapies in bipolar disorder protocol. Biol Psychiatry 41(12):1165–1173

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Frank E, Kupfer DJ, et al. (1990) Three-year outcomes for maintenance therapies in recurrent depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 47(12):1093–1099

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Hardy GE, Barkham M, et al. (1995) Impact of Cluster C personality disorders on outcomes of contrasting brief psychotherapies for depression. J Consult Clin Psychol 63(6):997–1004

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Jadad AR, Moore RA, et al. (1996) Assessing the quality of reports of randomized clinical trials: is blinding necessary? Control Clin Trials 17(1):1–12

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Jarrett RB, Rush AJ, (1994) Short-term psychotherapy of depressive disorders: current status and future directions. Psychiatry 57(2):115–132

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Karasu TD, Docherty JP, Gelenberg A (1993) Practice Guidelines for major depressive disorders in adults. Am J Psychiatry 150:1–26

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Klerman GL, Dimascio A, et al. (1974) Treatment of depression by drugs and psychotherapy. Am J Psychiatry 131(2):186–191

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Klerman GL, Weissman MM, Markowitz JC (1994) Medication and psychotherapy. In: Bergin AE, Garfield SL (eds) Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, New York, Wiley, pp 734–782

  17. 17.

    Klerman GL, Weissman MM, Rounsaville BJ (1984) Interpersonal Psychotherapy of Depression. New York, Basic Books

  18. 18.

    Lave JR, Frank RG, et al. (1998) Cost-effectiveness of treatments for major depression in primary care practice. Arch Gen Psychiatry 55(7):645–651

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Markowitz JC (1998) Interpersonal psychotherapy for dysthymic disorder.Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Press

  20. 20.

    Markowitz JC, Klerman GL, et al. (1995) Individual psychotherapies for depressed HIV-positive patients. Am J Psychiatry 152(10):1504–1509

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Markowitz JC, Kocsis JH, et al. (1998) Treatment of depressive symptoms in human immunodeficiency virus-positive patients. Arch Gen Psychiatry 55(5):452–457

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Markowitz JC, Swartz HA (1997) Case formulation in interpersonal psychotherapy of depression.Handbook of Psychotherapy Case Formulation. New York. E TD. New York, Guilford, pp 192–222

  23. 23.

    Mello MF, Myczcowisk LM, et al. (2001) A randomized controlled trial comparing moclobemide and moclobemide plus interpersonal psychotherapy in the treatment of dysthymic disorder. J Psychother Pract Res 10(2):117–123

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Mossey JM, Knott KA, et al. (1996) Effectiveness of a psychosocial intervention, interpersonal counseling, for subdysthymic depression in medically ill elderly. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 51(4):M172–M178

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Mufson L,Moreau D,Weissman MM, Klerman GL (1993) Interpersonal therapy for depressed adolescents. New York, Guilford Press

  26. 26.

    Mufson L, Weissman MM, et al. (1999) Efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed adolescents. Arch Gen Psychiatry 56(6):573–579

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    O’Hara MW, Stuart S, et al. (2000) Efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for postpartum depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 57(11):1039–1045

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Parson T (1951) Illness and role of the physician: a sociological perspective. Am J Orthopsychiatry 21:452–460

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Prusoff BA, Weissman MM, et al. (1980) Research diagnostic criteria subtypes of depression. Their role as predictors of differential response to psychotherapy and drug treatment. Arch Gen Psychiatry 37(7):796–801

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    RevMan CC (2000) RevMan. v4.1.1 for windows

  31. 31.

    Reynolds CF 3rd, Frank E, et al. (1996) Treatment outcome in recurrent major depression: a post hoc comparison of elderly (“young old”) and midlife patients. Am J Psychiatry 153(10):1288–1292

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Reynolds CF 3rd, Frank E, et al. (1999) Nortriptyline and interpersonal psychotherapy as maintenance therapies for recurrent major depression: a randomized controlled trial in patients older than 59 years. Jama 281(1):39–45

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Reynolds CF 3rd, Frank E, et al. (1992) Combined pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy in the acute and continuation treatment of elderly patients with recurrent major depression: a preliminary report. Am J Psychiatry 149(12):1687–1692

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Reynolds CF 3rd, Miller MD, et al. (1999) Treatment of bereavement- related major depressive episodes in later life: a controlled study of acute and continuation treatment with nortriptyline and interpersonal psychotherapy. Am J Psychiatry 156(2):202–208

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Rossello J, Bernal G (1999) The efficacy of cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal treatments for depression in Puerto Rican adolescents. J Consult Clin Psychol 67(5):734–745

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Schulberg HC, Block MR, et al. (1996) Treating major depression in primary care practice. Eight-month clinical outcomes. Arch Gen Psychiatry 53(10):913–919

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Shapiro DA, Barkham M, et al. (1994) Effects of treatment duration and severity of depression on the effectiveness of cognitivebehavioral and psychodynamic-interpersonal psychotherapy. J Consult Clin Psychol 62(3):522–534

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Sotsky SM, Glass DR, et al. (1991) Patient predictors of response to psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy: findings in the NIMH Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program. Am J Psychiatry 148(8):997–1008

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Spinelli MG, Endicott J (2003) Controlled clinical trial of interpersonal psychotherapy versus parenting education program for depressed pregnant women. Am J Psychiatry 160(3):555–562

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Stewart JW, Garfinkel R, et al. (1998) Atypical features and treatment response in the National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program. J Clin Psychopharmacol 18(6):429–434

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Weissman MM, Markowitz JC (1998) An Overview of Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Press, pp 1–33

  42. 42.

    Weissman MM,Markowitz JC, Klerman GL (2000) Comprehensive Guide to Interpersonal Psychotherapy. New York, Basic Books

  43. 43.

    Weissman MM, Prusoff BA, et al. (1979) The efficacy of drugs and psychotherapy in the treatment of acute depressive episodes. Am J Psychiatry 136(4B):555–558

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Williams JW Jr, Barrett J, et al. (2000) Treatment of dysthymia and minor depression in primary care:A randomized controlled trial in older adults. Jama 284(12):1519–1526

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Zlotnick C, Johnson SL, et al. (2001) Postpartum depression in women receiving public assistance: pilot study of an interpersonal-therapy-oriented group intervention. Am J Psychiatry 158(4):638–640

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Feijo de Mello MD, PhD.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

de Mello, M.F., de Jesus Mari, J., Bacaltchuk, J. et al. A systematic review of research findings on the efficacy of interpersonal therapy for depressive disorders. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 255, 75–82 (2005).

Download citation

Key words

  • meta–analysis
  • depression
  • interpersonal therapy
  • efficacy