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What is Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy?

Dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT) is a short-term, highly structured form of psychotherapy that is used to treat depression and anxiety. A usual course of DIT consists of sixteen weekly sessions.

DIT’s focus is on relationships, and helping clients understand the link between their low moods and the ways they are interacting with others.

The idea is that if an individual can understand how the patterns of relating he or she developed while growing up are affecting the way they behave around others in the present, and then learn to deal with relationships in more positive and useful ways, stress lowers and emotional health improves.

DIT was developed from Psychodynamic therapy. It uses evidence-based (proven by studies to work) elements of the psychodynamic framework, packaged in a time-limited, more tightly structured format. To be licensed as a DIT practitioner, therapists must also have at least 150 hours of practice as a psychodynamic practitioner.

DIT is growing in popularity in the UK, and is now one of the the five therapies for depression presently in use by the NHS as recommended by the Department of Health.

dynamic interpersonal therapyWhat psychological issues is Dynamic interpersonal therapy recommended for?

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • relationship issues

What are the goals of dynamic interpersonal therapy?

Dynamic interpersonal therapy seeks to help clients achieve the following:

  • more able to reflect on thoughts and feelings
  • clearer understanding of self and others
  • able to recognise and take responsibility for behaviour around others
  • more confident with relating to others and managing relationship difficulties
  • more able to sustain intimacy with others
  • better moods and less anxiety
  • ability to see options and make better choices

What other therapies is dynamic interpersonal therapy comparable to?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy – DIT is a ‘child’ of PsychodynaDITmic therapy, created from it’s framework and in a sense a sort of shorter, more focused and structured version.

Psychoanalytical psychotherapy – Psychodynamic psychotherapy stems from Psychoanalytic psychotherapy, so DIT also shares main concepts with psychoanalytic thought.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – The two might be compared because they are both short term therapies recommended by the NHS in the UK. But they are actually quite different. Dynamic interpersonal therapy focuses on how dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs in relationships cause depression, and Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and actions. CBT also involves a heavy written component and homework. They are different enough that DIT is recommended by the NHS if a client fails to respond to CBT.

Couples counsellingCouples counselling also focuses on relationships. But it’s very different than DIT. Couples counselling has the aim of helping a relationship improve. DIT has the aim of improving all of an individual’s relationships, and their style of interacting, in order to improve their moods.

What are the theories behind Dynamic Interpersonal Theory?

DIT TherapyLike many sorts of psychotherapy and counselling, Dynamic Interpersonal therapy is based on the idea that what happened to someone in the past can be affecting the way they think, feel, and act in the present.

DIT sees depression as resulting from confused thinking and understanding around ‘attachment’ in relationships. Attachment is the way someone allows him or herself to trust and depend on others.

If an individual has unclear or unhelpful ideas about attachment within his or her relationships, then it leads to distorted thinking – thoughts that are more based on negative beliefs then what is actually happening. And distorted thinking leads to low moods and depression.

If an individual can identify the core ‘pattern’ of relating they are using, which will be something unconscious and repetitive, he or she can then understand why their relationships are going wrong and causing them to feel unhappy.

They can then start to make choices that move them away from this pattern, and choose other behaviours that lead to better relationships.

And better functioning, healthy relationships, allow an individual to feel better about themselves and the world, thus their depression lifts.

How might sessions of DIT therapy work?

The first few sessions of Dynamic interpersonal therapy involve a therapist asking about a client’s moods and their main relationships.

Listening carefully to the client, the therapist will notice details they then reflect back to help the client understand how he or she both impacts and responds to others. This helps the client not only understand more about themselves and others, but also allows them to see links between their low moods and their relationships.

Together the therapist and client work to identify the pattern that is being repeated in the client’s relationships that is causing difficulty and stress. This pattern might, for example, be something like, ‘if someone gets to close it’s best to push them away so they can’t hurt you”. They will then look at other choices the client could make instead of their habitual pattern.

A DIT therapist will not just use what a client shares as a platform for exploration, but also the therapist and client relationship. The way an individual interacts with his or her therapist can act like a mirror for the way they also act with others. Using the example above of an individual who pushes people away, the therapist might note that as soon as the client started to trust the therapist he or she then suddenly pulled away. Together the therapist and client can explore this interaction, and look at alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

Dynamic interpersonal therapy does not involve homework, but progress is usually tracked. This allows both the client and therapist to see the improvement on a weekly basis.

Have you tried Dynamic interpersonal therapy? Want to share your experience? Or still have questions? Comment below.

Photos by MCAD library, Mic445, miss_millions, Hartwig HKD, Hey Paul Studios


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    Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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