Interpersonal Therapy and PTSD

Interpersonal Therapy and PTSD

Anxious. Nauseous. The only thing on your mind is what shouldn’t be. The only thing you can feel is the sound of your heart, breaking away.


PTSD stands for post-traumatic disorder, an anxiety disorder that develops from experiencing or witnessing difficult trauma. People with PTSD live with nightmares, flashbacks, and overwhelming anxiety. Contrary to popular belief, signs and experiences of PTSD can occur years and decades after a traumatic event. At any point in their lives, those with PTSD relive the fear and panic of that moment over and over again.


PTSD is a disabling disorder that impacts 7.7 million Americans, and even more worldwide. Thankfully, there are psychological solutions to help cope and recover from PTSD. The current choice for treating PTSD is exposure therapy. Since remembering events that you don’t want to is deeply upsetting, many of those with PTSD protect themselves by avoiding triggers such as situations and places that remind them of their trauma. This not only obstructs them from daily tasks, but it also isolates them and deteriorates their mental wellbeing. Exposure therapy tackles avoidance behavior by assisting those with PTSD to confront their fears in a safe, controlled manner. Trust is vital here, as exposure therapy requires clients to put themselves in situations and places they have been avoiding. When done right, clients with PTSD build up the comfort level with facing what they had been avoiding and acknowledge that they are a no longer threat to them. While exposure therapy has shown great success in reducing the symptoms of PTSD, it is intimidating and painful for many PTSD patients.


“Exposure Therapy was just awful, but I did persist, where I believe many do give up because it’s just too hard. My therapist is a very good one, and I trust her. Although even during the therapy I was still not able to vocalize what had happened. I would just clam up, shake, cry and freeze.”


Across platforms, the common voice amongst online discussions of PTSD is the emotional exhaustion of going through exposure therapy. Processing one’s trauma is a difficult task, and doing so deliberately in the presence of someone else is mentally taxing. It has turned many of those with PTSD from seeking treatment, reclusing them from the help they need. Thus, researchers have looked for alternative methods of treating PTSD. With some recent results, psychologists may have found a new alternative to exposure therapy.


Having PTSD often means feeling a loss of control, whether if its the ugly anxiety that keeps coming back, or not being able to go out with friends because you no longer feel safe in the places you used to. Understandably, this can cause anyone to feel at lost with their emotions and to isolate themselves from more hurt. Originally developed for treating depression, interpersonal therapy (IPT) sets to improve the difficulties experienced by PTSD patients by focusing on repairing what trauma does to trust and relationships. IPT focuses on affective attunement and helps clients recognize their emotions not as threats, but as ways and reasons for connecting with others. IPT aims to mend disruptive relationship patterns associated with PTSD. This allows patients to develop close, meaningful relationships and allows to cope better with a strong support network that the patient themselves have chosen to trust. It is through the support of these relationships and fulfilling social interactions that allow PTSD patients to finally open up facing their trauma, on their own accord.


For its distinctly different approach from exposure therapy, IPT has shown similar clinical effectiveness to exposure therapy. In addition, research examining IPT and exposure therapy has proved that IPT was more accommodating. IPT has had a lower dropout rate, and patients showed a preference to IPT over exposure therapy. As the importance of therapy is persistence and consistency, a lower dropout rate is a huge part of giving patients more effective treatment.


While exposure therapy is a time tested and important part of PTSD treatment, IPT takes a successful social and personal perspective on treating PTSD. PTSD is a hollowing condition and its consequences impact on the lives of millions every day. Thus, new insights into improving and providing treatments are going to help ease the lives of so many.



IPT for PTSD. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Levin, A. (n.d.). Trial of Interpersonal therapy may open new door to treat PTSD. Retrieved from

Living with PTSD (Potentially Triggering Material) [Online forum post]. (n.d.). Retrieved from Lifeline website:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (n.d.). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic website:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Rafaeli, A., & Markowitz, J. (n.d.). Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) for PTSD: a case study. Retrieved from

Tull, M. (n.d.). How exposure therapy can treat PTSD. Retrieved from

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