Interpersonal Psychoanalysis

Interpersonal Psychoanalysis


Interpersonal Psychoanalysis was studied and formulated by Harry Stack Sullivan beginning in the year 1892. This is the thought that the analysis should focus on the interactions of the client early on so that the therapist can identify with their current mentality. The therapy is based off of Sullivan's idea that an individual's interaction with others is what provides them with insight into cures of mental health. Each of our personalities are created and shaped by the interactions that we have with others beginning from when we are a child. This form of therapy is thought to access these disturbances through treatment so that the individual will respond to the self that is currently experiencing difficulty.

Goals of Interpersonal Psychoanalysis

The goal of Interpersonal Psychoanalysis is to outline the components of the patient and how those components affect their relationships with themselves and others. By bringing these characteristics out through selective inattention the therapist will begin to study the patient. They are going to focus on how the client maintains relationships with others as well as their tendencies and patterns in behavior. By analyzing this, the therapist will begin to recognize what may have caused the individual to hold their current behavior. By asking questions and allowing the individual to reflect on themselves the therapist will begin to understand and alter the patients damaging perception. The goal of this therapy is to help the patient make healthy decisions and act accordingly without undergoing anxiety. Anxiety and depression is often the result of past interactions.

When is Interpersonal Psychoanalysis Used?

Interpersonal Psychoanalysis is used when an individual is dealing with hardships as a result of the way that they are behaving. Their behavior is a reaction to past obstacles and relationships. It's common that the difficulty faced in making these decisions and maintaining relationships come from the emotions that have been repressed because of a difficult situation. This therapy is used when the patient is the result of an environment that has shaped them into someone with an internal conflict. This conflict is hidden behind all of the current selves that have been learned over time. Every patient is the result of a different experience although it is often that those experiences have had a negative effect on the way that they see and experience the world.

How Interpersonal Psychoanalysis Works

Interpersonal Psychoanalysis works by identifying four problems areas that result in this depression. The therapist begins to help the client identify what area has resulted in their own depression and similar issues. After that is recognized the session consists of the patient dealing with this area of their self. The four categories are unresolved grief, role disputes, role transitions and interpersonal deficits.

The initial sessions will focus on different tasks. The goal of the first sit down is to recognize and diagnose why the patient may be dealing with interpersonal conflicts and how they are reacting to those conflicts socially. The therapist focuses on the client's current relationships, history behind the conflict and the information that pertains to resolving this problem. A treatment plan will then be created. The therapist focuses on four categories when formulating the individual treatment for the patient.

If the client is dealing with unresolved grief the therapist will begin working with them so that they can return to a healthy function. It's common that it is the result of experiencing a loss or grief. The emotions associated with it have caused the individual to disassociate with emotions and that has led them to depression and unhealthy behavior. If the client is suffering from a role dispute it may be due to the patient having certain expectations of people in their lives and those roles were never upheld. Role transitions are common in those who could have experienced depression when their lives were transitioning and roles were changing – they may have been unsure as to how they should cope with the change. If the therapist finds that the patient is experiencing interpersonal deficits it is because they have had difficulty in creating relationships with others for one reason or another.

Criticisms of Psychoanalysis

The criticism toward psychoanalysis has to do with the changes that have taken place in mental healthcare and psychoanalytical diagnosis over time. There are some who believe that the theories practiced in therapy are based too heavily on a clinical case study and not enough on experimental research. The criticisms point toward some patients being diagnosed and treated incorrectly because the conditions are not related to psychoanalysis.


Robertson, M. (2008). Interpersonal psychotherapy: an overview. Psychotherapy in Australia, 14(3), 54. Retrieved from

The effectiveness of individual interpersonal psychotherapy as a treatment for major depressive disorder in adult outpatients: a systematic review. (2013). Retrieved from

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