IPT and Eating Disorders
Do you ever feel like you don’t have relationships, like you are alone or isolated, or that you are often misunderstood, overlooked, or unable to connect with others?
Does it ever seem that everyone else your age is doing other things while you feel “stuck” or left behind?
Have you ever seen someone look at you or heard someone say something to you, and your mind was suddenly flooded with eating disorder thoughts?
Or, maybe you experienced a loss, and seemingly the only solution was to turn to your eating disorder to manage your grief.
For many with eating disorders, you already know how interactions with others can impact you. In fact, there is a fair amount of research that shows that people with eating disorders have a vulnerability to over-assessing the verbal and nonverbal feedback from others as a way of checking to see if they are okay.
Research also shows that eating disorders can start or re-occur in the context of major life transitions such as during the grieving process, in mid-life, or starting middle school, high school, or college. One of the reasons these transition periods can be so fraught is because of how our roles and identities change, creating space for an eating disorder to slip in if one is struggling with the transition.
While many people have heard of using CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) or DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) for treating eating disorders, there is another treatment that can be just as helpful but is often not as well known. This therapy is IPT (interpersonal psychotherapy). IPT is a therapy that focuses on relationships and how relationships can affect one’s eating disorder or life, in general.
IPT targets five major domains of functioning:
interpersonal deficits and/or lack of intimacy
interpersonal role disputes (conflict)
life goals (like role transitions but for those who missed out on role transitions due to interference from their eating disorder or other barriers)
Like CBT and DBT, it is a time-limited intervention that has multiple phases. Usually, the treatment lasts 16-20 sessions and is broken into identifying the problem area on which to focus, understanding and addressing the interpersonal challenges that were identified, and reviewing the treatment and planning how to maintain the gains made with the treatment.
Generally, one area will be the focus of the treatment though at times 2 areas might be addressed, or an additional area might be addressed after focusing on another area (for example, working initially on grieving and adding life goals as you progress through treatment).
While IPT does not always have the same effect initially as CBT, research shows that the positive effect of IPT grows with time. That means the more you use the skills and strategies you learn with the sessions, the more effective the treatment is- even well after you stop getting additional IPT.
IPT is also a good option for people who struggle with the structure of CBT or DBT or who are unsure about addressing their eating disorder directly, and it has been shown to be helpful for depression, some personality disorders, and social anxiety, as well. Further, IPT is an excellent option for people who have completed CBT but still need supplementary work.
If you have questions about IPT and whether it might be a good fit for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out or consult with your treatment team about if IPT is the right option for you!
Rachel Hendricks, LCSW is a new addition to the clinical team at Chrysalis and loves providing IPT to clients when it is appropriate! She also specializes in working with clients who have had their eating disorder for ten or more years, clients with co-occurring substance use behaviors, as well as working with couples and families. She is excited to be making the transition to Wilmington from the Center for Eating Disorders in Baltimore, Maryland and looks forward to becoming more familiar with the area as well as continuing her reputation for providing excellent clinical care in the field of eating disorders.
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