What is ISTDP?

Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy (ISTDP) is a form of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy developed through empirical, video-recorded research by Habib Davanloo, MD.

The therapy's primary goal is to help the patient overcome internal resistance to experiencing true feelings about the present and past, which have been warded off, because they are either too frightening or too painful. The technique is intensive in that it aims to help the patient experience these warded-off feelings to the maximum degree possible; it is short-term in that it tries to achieve this experience as quickly as possible; it is dynamic because it involves working with unconscious forces and transference feelings.

Patients come to therapy because of either symptoms or interpersonal difficulties. Symptoms include traditional psychological problems like anxiety and depression, but they also include physical symptoms without medically identifiable cause, such as headache, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, or sudden weakness. The ISTDP model attributes these to the occurrence of distressing situations where painful or forbidden emotions are triggered outside of awareness. Within psychiatry, these phenomena are classified as Somatoform Disorders.

The therapy itself was developed during the 1960s to 1990s by Habib Davanloo, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Montreal. He video recorded patient sessions and watched the recordings in minute detail, to determine as precisely as possible the type of interventions that were most effective in overcoming resistance. Davanloo believed that internal resistance was acting to keep painful or frightening feelings out of awareness and prevent interpersonal closeness.

Further research has shown ISTDP to be effective in the treatment of personality disorders, treatment resistant depression, medically unexplained symptoms, anxiety and interpersonal problems.

The sessions are video recorded for the purpose of analysis and supervision, which is best practice in all psychotherapies.


ISTDP Interest group

Therapists meet monthly on third Wednesday.