Interpersonal psychotherapy for adolescents (IPT-A) is a manualised, time-limited intervention for young people with depression. This systematic review aimed to determine the effectiveness of IPT-A for treating adolescent depression.
A systematic search of relevant electronic databases and study reference lists was conducted. Any study investigating the effectiveness of IPT-A in 12- to 20-year-olds with a depressive disorder was eligible. Synthesis was via narrative summary and meta-analysis.
Twenty studies were identified (10 randomised trials and 10 open trials/case studies), many of which had small sample sizes and were of varying quality. Following IPT-A, participants experienced large improvements in depression symptoms (d = -1.48, p < .0001, k = 17), interpersonal difficulties with a medium effect (d = -0.68, p < .001, k = 8) and in general functioning with a very large effect (d = 2.85, p < .001, k = 8). When compared against control interventions, IPT-A was more effective than non-CBT active controls in reducing depression symptoms (d = -0.64, p < .001, k = 5) and was no different from CBT (d = 0.05, p = .88, k = 2). There was no difference between IPT-A and active control interventions in reducing interpersonal difficulties (d = -0.26, p = .25, k = 5).
Interpersonal psychotherapy for adolescents is an effective intervention for adolescent depression, improving a range of relevant outcomes. IPT-A is consistently superior to less structured interventions and performs similarly to CBT. However, these conclusions are cautious, as they are based on a small number of controlled studies, with minor adaptations to the standard IPT-A protocol, and/or were conducted by the intervention developers. Further robust RCTs are therefore required. The lack of superiority in IPT-A for improving interpersonal difficulties highlights a need for studies to explore the underpinning mechanisms of change.
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