Interpersonal therapy (IPT) for bulimia nervosa is a type of individual psychotherapy. The 15-20 sessions last 50 minutes each and are given over the period of four to five months. Three stages are involved. In the first stage, which takes three to four sessions, the patient is introduced to the treatment. His current interpersonal problems are enquired into following which the contract for the therapy is finalized. The interpersonal context of the development of the eating problems and their maintenance would be evaluated initially.
Then the quality of the patient’s present interpersonal function would be assessed. The interpersonal context of the bulimia would then be examined. The termination of this first stage would be marked by the therapist and the patient deciding the focus of the balance treatment from among the identified issues. In the second stage and third stages, more pressure is placed upon the patient to change her ways. The eating disorder is not mentioned as such. Only the interpersonal context will be discussed. The therapist changes the focus of the discussion if the patient mentions the problem.
IPT appeared to be as effective as the main therapy of the disorder, which is an adaptation of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). However, the styles of the therapies are entirely different, and the direct combination may not be compatible. So, Fairburn prefers to combine IPT with a self-help program based on CBT. The use of IPT in a group has been thought of, but the effect is doubtful. Wilfley and his team of researchers have tried this on a group who binge eat.
Other researchers believed that since neither CBT nor IPT is the universal remedy, some combination of the two might prove better. Patients who were having either the CBT or the IPT were introduced to a combination of CBT and short-term focal IPT. Both groups showed a dramatic response for the better, and the changes were maintained in a twelve-month period of no treatment. In another study, IPT was used to completely replace the original interpersonal treatment (CBT) as they were both similar in style and focus. Results indicated that both were equally effective. However, CBT produced changes faster, and they were obvious during the therapy itself.
The changes in IPT were slower in onset, but they remained productive for a longer time. It can be concluded that short-term focal IPT may be a new method to treat bulimia nervosa. More research needs to be done to make conclusions. IPT has another advantage in that it addresses the internal struggles of the client’s mind, which is basically the main foundation for the issues of bulimia. The therapy has the scope of allowing the client to examine her own interactions with others and how these interactions influence their feelings. They begin to understand that it is the negative feelings that influence them into binge eating problems. They also learn coping strategies to overcome their defective eating habits. Their self-confidence and self-esteem build up during the sessions, and they gradually manage not to internalize the issues.