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Review Article

Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Critical Review of the Evidence

John C. Markowitz, MD

Published: May 29, 2024


Importance: Extensively researched, exposure-focused therapies have dominated the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No treatment benefits all patients. Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), a nonexposure, affect-focused treatment, has emerged over 2 decades as an alternative evidence-based PTSD intervention.

Objective: This narrative review critically assesses IPT outcomes for PTSD. Time limited IPT focuses on affect toleration and the interpersonal consequences of trauma rather than on reconstructing the trauma narrative and exposure to traumatic cues.

Evidence Review: The author searched the outcome literature on IPT for adults with syndromal PTSD and drew upon personal involvement in studies since 2001. Subsyndromal PTSD studies and 1 adolescent trial were excluded.

Findings: Thirteen published studies of IPT targeted PTSD in individual and group formats for 592 civilians (n = 8, 6 randomized controlled trials [RCTs]) and 187 military veterans (n = 5, 1 RCT). Some trials had methodological limitations. IPT surpassed outcomes of waiting lists and other weak controls and was noninferior to evidence-based PTSD treatments including Prolonged Exposure (n = 2) and sertraline (n = 1). Depression and other outcomes improved. The RCTs demonstrate IPT efficacy for PTSD and allow preliminary exploration of outcome mediators and moderators and differential therapeutics.

Conclusion: While the number of studies remains limited, research by multiple investigators in differing populations supports the efficacy of IPT as a non trauma-focused PTSD treatment and justifies its inclusion in PTSD treatment guidelines. More research is necessary to determine how IPT compares to exposure-focused treatments in patient preference, attrition, and response for PTSD comorbid with major depression or due to sexual trauma.

J Clin Psychiatry 2024;85(2):23nr15172

Author affiliations are listed at the end of this article.

Volume: 85

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