What is ISTDP?

"ISTDP is a form of Experiential Dynamic Therapy which is the general term for methods derived from [Habib] Davanloo's original technique."

Dr David Malan Consultant Psychiatrist

Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy

Intensive Short-Term Psychotherapy (ISTDP) is a specific form of talking therapy designed to help people resolve emotional problems as rapidly as possible. It is widely practiced in Europe and North America and researchers have found it to be an effective form of treatment for a range of problems.

This form of therapy has been found to be suitable for 86% of people referred to a psychiatric service. People presenting with problems such as, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, relationship problems and medically unexplained physical complaints (e.g., headache, migraine, IBS, muscle stiffness and pseudo-seizures) are all suitable for this form of therapy. ISTDP is also appropriate for those with destructive behaviour patterns including self-harm and substance abuse.

ISTDP is based on the belief that symptomatic or interpersonal difficulties are the result of psychological trauma, stemming from attachment ruptures. These ruptures can lead to the formation of self-defeating forces designed to ward off painful and anxiety-provoking feelings.

An important goal of ISTDP is to help patients overcome their own unconscious resistance to experiencing their true feelings about their past and present because these emotions were too frightening or painful to experience.

ISTDP is intensive because it aims to help people experience these feelings as quickly as possible and it is short-term because the goal is to resolve the problems associated with blocking one’s own feelings in the quickest time possible (i.e., usually under 40 hours). It is dynamic because the therapist is active in addressing all the defence mechanisms erected to keep the feelings out of one’s own awareness. It is this dynamic focus that aims to result in access to long-repressed feelings, leading to freedom from symptoms. When patients experience their true feelings in the present, they spontaneously connect these experiences with their personal histories. This enables defences to be relinquished and in many cases complete resolution over one’s symptoms can be achieved.