In the interpersonal therapy for depression model, Role transitions refer to any life change that a person experiences, such as separation or divorce, children leaving home, the start or end of a job, school or financial problems. In some instances the loss is may be more obvious, but other losses may be less apparent (e.g. loss of job status due to retirement, loss of purpose when children leave, etc.). In other instance the life change may appear to be positive (e.g. a promotion; birth of a child, etc.), but is nonetheless experienced as a loss (e.g. loss of work group due to promotion, loss of lifestyle due to caring for a child, etc.).

Within the interpersonal therapy for depression framework, role transitions are assumed to be a focus of treatment when psychosocial stressors in the patient’s life results in psychological distress. Invariably, the change is experienced as a loss. Like interpersonal disputes, role transitions are varied in their nature. Examples include: situational role transitions (e.g., job loss, promotion, graduation, geographical moves); relationship role transitions (e.g., marriage, divorce, step-parenthood); illness related role transitions (e.g., diagnosis of chronic illness, adaptation to pain or physical limitations); and post-event role transitions (e.g., posttraumatic symptoms, loss of home, refugee status).  In each of these examples the person has to transition from one way of living to another. For example, a person may have to adjust from being in a relationship to being single, or from being financially secure to not having that financial security because of a job loss or lifestyle change. Interpersonal therapy for depression recognizes that any change in a person’s lifestyle can typically be related to a role transition.

The early goal in interpersonal therapy for depression is to identify and define the existence of a role transition as a source of stress and then to learn how to view the old role and new role in a more balanced and realistic way.  Then it may be feasible to begin to accept the emotional component of the loss of the ‘old role’ and the perceived challenges of the ‘new role’.  As this work progresses, it will become possible to develop and implement skills and attitudes that overcome the perceived challenges of the ‘new role’. Interpersonal therapy for depression recognizes that it will likely be necessary to mourn the loss of the old role, while re-evaluating the opportunities that are now available due to the change, and then clarifying the challenges of the new role, and ultimately mastering them. Hence, treatment goals for role transitions include developing strategies to accept and grieve the loss of an old role, evaluate the positives and negatives and the benefits and opportunities of the new role, and then to develop the necessary skills to cope with the new demands. If you need help coping with depression and are considering our IOP, please give us a call.

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