Do you have physical, emotional or interpersonal difficulties that you just can’t shake? Then diving deep with Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) may be for you!
ISTDP is a form of brief psychotherapy, originally developed by Dr Habib Davanloo, and now supported by extensive research.
Fundamentally, ISTDP is an attachment based therapy, which draws heavily from psychodynamic principles. The basic philosophy is based on an understanding of the emotional impacts of broken and disrupted attachments.
ISTDP: an Attachment Based Therapy
Attachment refers to the connection of relationship between infants/children and their caregivers. When this relationship goes well, the child develops healthy and functional ways of relating to themselves and their world.
However, childhood lasts a long time! The attachment relationship faces many obstacles, and can be negatively impacted by things as extreme as abuse and neglect, and as run of the mill as childhood illness and divorce.
Despite potentially conflicted feelings in the child (love/anger/sadness/etc), the relationship is so important to their survival that they will typically avoid and block emotions that threaten their attachment relationship. For instance, in the case of divorce, the child can feel both love and anger for the parent who left them behind, and even guilt at feeling the anger! Because they want the parent to come back so badly, they might block or hide parts of their anger, hoping that will entice them to return (if they are “good enough”).
The real impact doesn’t hit until later – our early attachment relationships form the template we use for all our important relationships in life. So yes, in a way we really do react to others in ways as if we were reacting to our parents! When later relationships and events stir up the feelings we have blocked, anxiety and defenses can be activated.
Some defenses are normal, healthy and good for us. Many are not. When the not-so-great defenses are unknown to the person, the result is often ruined relationships, psychological symptoms, and even physical problems. Many people who struggle with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, interpersonal problems, self sabotage, eating disorders and a myriad of complex (and sometimes unexplainable) physical ailments are actually suffering as a result of this emotional blockage – often without knowing.
How Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy Works
The treatment approach of Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy begins with helping the individual to identify and recognise these unconscious processes, and then to help them overcome their emotional blocks. It is important to highlight these processes in real time – which often means using recent examples, or the therapy relationship itself. You may not think you feel anything toward your therapist, but as you work together to get through to your blocked emotions, you will be surprised at what gets stirred up … and your therapist is counting on it!
When these blocked feelings are experienced (termed a “breakthrough”), tension and defenses decrease significantly. This allows for a healing process in which old avoided feelings can be worked through. Often just one breakthrough can lead to major symptom improvement, though often a series is required to bring about big behavioural change. At the end of successful therapy, the anxiety and defenses are no longer there, allowing the individual’s life and relationships to go smoothly – as they were always meant to.
Can ISTDP Help Me?
Basically, if you have a problem in your life, the answer is YES. Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy can be helpful with relatively small and acute difficulties, but has also been found to be particularly useful with clients who have long-standing, chronic difficulties, impacting multiple areas of their life. These people are often labelled with diagnoses such as “personality disorders” and “treatment resistant”. The benefit of ISTDP is that it goes beyond the surface of the problem, and deals with the underlying causes.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with an issue in life, contact me today to discuss whether Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy may be for you.
Author: Tiegan Holtham, B Sc (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Tiegan Holtham is a Clinical Psychology Registrar, based at M1 Psychology Loganholme. Working from a strengths-based framework, Tiegan assists children, adolescents, adults and families with difficulties such as anger, anxiety, jealousy, self-criticism, perfectionism, body image and eating disorders.
- Abbass, A. (2002). Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy in a private psychiatric office: clinical and cost effectiveness. American journal of psychotherapy, 56(2), 225.
- Abbass, A. (2015). Reaching Through Resistance: Advanced Psychotherapy Techniques.