What is Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy?

As humans, our ability to sleep and rest during the night is critical for us to be able to function during the day. Consider the last time you didn’t get a good night’s rest; you might have struggled the following day to maintain focus and energy.

For someone living with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, inconsistent sleeping patterns can have a strong impact on their mood and functionality. Fortunately, that’s where Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) might prove useful. 

What is Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy?

IPSRT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on helping the individual develop and maintain daily routines, like sleeping and waking up. By becoming aware of their routines and learning the importance of sticking to them, they can start to experience the positive side effects of regulating those routines. With daily rhythms stabilized, IPSRT therapy can also provide the mental space to engage in cognitive therapy to explore past traumas and interpersonal relationships. 

What Conditions is it Used to Treat?

The main conditions IPSRT is used to treat are bipolar disorder 1 and 2, but it can sometimes be used to treat other mood-related disorders such as cyclothymia. 2.2 per cent of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder in their lifetimes.  

Those living with bipolar disorder can experience periods of mania and depression, also called episodes. In the manic state, the individual might experience intensely elevated energy levels and moods. During depressed states, their symptoms are like those of someone living with major depressive disorder

Often, someone living with bipolar disorder will struggle to maintain consistent eating habits, sleeping patterns, and struggle to maintain relationships. In turn, these inconsistencies can trigger further episodes.

How Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy Treats Bipolar Disorder

A psychotherapist trained in providing IPSRT will begin the treatment by seeing how the individual’s current routines impact their experience of Bipolar Disorder. They will look for connections between disrupted routines and episodes and their interpersonal relationships. From there, the therapist will distinguish the interpersonal area to focus talk-therapy on, such as grief, role-transitions, role disputes, or social isolation.

In the second stage, the therapist will help the patient create new routines for going to bed and waking up, taking into account their circadian rhythm. The patient will be expected to track their sleeping habits, moods, eating habits, and other activities. 

In the third stage, the therapist problem-solves with the patient to understand why some of the new routines aren’t working and how to better maintain them to continue seeing decreased or less intense episodes.

Then, as the patient shows their ability to maintain routines and their sleeping patterns are consistent, they will begin to decrease the frequency of IPSRT sessions. 

How it Compares to CBT

Studies show that IPSRT is significantly beneficial in helping those living with bipolar disorder cope with their illness (in combination with medication). 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also be useful in treating bipolar disorder. It focuses on noticing one’s thoughts and how they relate to the emotions felt and actions taken. 

Interested in Learning More About Treatment Options for Mental Illness?

Whether you’re living with mental illness or someone you love is, know that there is hope. Check out this section on our blog to learn more about mental illnesses and various treatment options. 

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