What Does IPC Stand For? History, Definition, And Effectiveness

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated June 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many forms of mental health treatment are utilized in treating mental illness, mental health symptoms, and life challenges. What type of therapy a person receives may depend on their wants, needs, and symptoms. There are also several varieties of mental health professionals. These individuals perform different types of therapy, counseling, or other services depending on their background and training. IPC is one type of counseling available to address symptoms related to relationships and socialization. 

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What does IPC stand for?

IPC stands for interpersonal counseling, a form of interpersonal therapy(IPT) often effective in clinical settings for treating depression. Interpersonal therapy has been recognized as a valid form of psychotherapy for treating depression, anxiety, and other concerns

What is IPT?

IPT differs from IPC, but they are related to one another. IPT is a form of therapy focusing on social roles and relationships and how to improve those relationships in the present. IPT can provide benefits such as improved relationships, healthier coping skills, and reduced unwanted behaviors.

IPT is a short-term therapy, often lasting a few months. It can effectively treat depression and has expanded in relevance over the years. IPT can also treat eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. This type of therapy often seeks to enrich one's interpersonal relationships to manage stress more effectively. 

What is IPC?

IPC, also referred to as interpersonal counseling, is a derivative of IPT and is often brief and heavily structured. The form of therapy is designed to be used in non-clinical and clinical settings. According to an article published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, IPC is well-suited to primary care settings and can make mental health care more available. 

The introduction of IPC has reduced the strain on primary care physicians by giving them a better ability to refer their patients to mental health professionals. IPC is primarily used in primary care clinics specializing in treating and counseling people with symptoms of depression. It has shown effectiveness in reducing symptoms of mood disorders and can be used by mental health practitioners trained as counselors. 

What does IPC look like?

Interpersonal therapy may look different for everyone but can have identifiable features. Often, clients meet with their therapist weekly for one-hour sessions for about 12 to 20 weeks. How often the client has sessions may depend on their needs, schedule, and therapy goals. In addition, the severity of their depression or other mental health symptoms could affect how long they may need to engage in IPC.

The first phase 

The first phase of IPC can be thought of as an interview. The therapist may ask open-ended questions to discover whether there are any patterns in the client's interpersonal relationships. They may examine the person's history and assess their familial, platonic, or romantic connections. The therapist doesn't ask questions to judge but to gather as much information as possible about the person's life. The more they know, the more they may be able to develop an effective treatment plan. 

The second phase 

Next, the therapist may try to understand which areas of their client's life are causing the most distress. It could be a breakup, taking on a new role at work, or experiencing the death of a loved one. Once problem areas are identified, the therapist can devise a treatment plan. At times, medication may be part of that process. However, a psychiatrist or medical doctor must prescribe medication, so you may receive a referral if that is the case. 

Goals for IPC 

As mental health conditions often affect every aspect of one's life, interpersonal relationships may also be impacted. The therapist can come up with tools their client uses to cope and provide them with strategies to improve their social connections. They may teach clients how to communicate more effectively or overcome social anxiety.

If clients are committed to implementing these changes in their lives and sticking to them, they may see improvements throughout the duration of treatment. This improvement might occur in their personal life, mindset, and general levels of stress. Minor changes might add up to become habits and make a long-term difference. 


The history of IPC

A manual on IPC was written in 1983 by Dr. Gerald Klerman and Dr. Myrna Weissman based on interpersonal psychotherapy. They developed a simplified version to train professionals who were not mental health specialists to treat primary care patients experiencing depression symptoms. The authors called the manual "Interpersonal Counseling."

The manual was updated in the 2000s to provide instructions to nurses, social workers, and others with licenses to provide mental healthcare. In this way, efficient and cost-effective services and reachable care could be provided to people with mental health concerns.

IPC training and qualifications

Those with IPC training may offer low-cost and effective counseling for depression and lessen the caseload for physicians. IPC personnel can identify and triage those who need to be in long-term care and find and suggest resources for them. At the same time, they can offer support until they are transitioned to care via a psychiatrist or a mental health facility offering more comprehensive treatment or medication.

IPC personnel can also identify clients who do not require long-term treatment or can be categorized with less severe depressive symptoms. They often recognize that a reaction to external issues may cause symptoms of depression. These issues may be neutralized through sessions with a mental health provider in which the individual learns healthy ways to cope.

Chosen trainees can receive IPC training via the use of videos, written materials, group instructional sessions, and the IPC manual. Consultation between an IPC and IPT therapist may be possible, encouraged, and effective. 

Effectiveness of IPC

A randomized controlled trial examined the effectiveness of IPC treatments, and it was found that IPC reduces depressive symptoms and improves the patient's ability to function. The researchers concluded that IPC was effective in treating depression, with easy-to-convey information and a format that works well in primary care situations.

One study pointed to the efficacy of IPC when treating women with breast cancer with depression. This study revealed decreased depression for the women and their partners after participating in IPC sessions by telephone. Parents experiencing postpartum symptoms have also found IPC sessions helpful.

IPC is not necessarily limited to mental health professionals. Across the globe, many nurses, social workers, and others have all received training in IPC. More providers receiving training in IPC may make outpatient mental health treatment more available. However, doctors and primary care providers not licensed to provide counseling cannot provide full therapy sessions and treatment like a counselor. If you're considering therapy, you may benefit more from a licensed therapist practicing IPC or IPT. 

Who should use IPC?

IPC isn't the only form of therapy available. There are many types to try, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), humanistic therapy, art therapy, and psychoanalysis. While IPC has traditionally been used to treat severe depression, it may now be used to manage symptoms of other mental health conditions. Even if you don't experience symptoms of depression, IPC might benefit you. 

Whether IPC is the right fit for you may depend on your needs, preferences, and past experiences. Talk with your doctor or a mental health professional to determine which option to utilize.

Interested in IPC or other forms of counseling?

Counseling options 

A growing body of research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of concerns, including depression. As IPC was developed as a cost-effective option for those facing cost barriers to in-person outpatient therapy, it can often be practiced in cost-effective methods, such as online therapy. Often, online therapy is much cheaper per session than in-person therapy and provides the option for clients to attend therapy from home, gaining the same benefits. 

One study on online counseling found that 71% of participants preferred it to in-person therapy and found lasting impacts on quality of life and symptom reduction in conditions like depression and anxiety. If you're interested in trying an online therapy platform, consider BetterHelp, which offers over 30,000 licensed therapists specializing in various treatment modalities. 


Interpersonal counseling can be a valuable method for managing symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions. This short-term option has already helped many people gain the support to move forward and feel empowered. However, there are many forms of treatment available. Discuss your options with a licensed provider to make an informed decision on your care plan. 

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