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by Dr. Becky Spelman on 10/05/2019

What is Intensive short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP)?

Intensive short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) aims for a permanent character transformation of psychologically-ill patients in less than 40 hours, through intense and focused therapeutic techniques. The idea of this approach is to get to the heart of the matter rather than wasting time talking around the problems.

In order to cope with anxiety, human beings use defence mechanisms to ward off underlying painful feelings. People generally turn to therapy because the usual defences are no longer effective. So, ISTDP therapists encourage patients to address the historical roots of their difficulty, the life events that activated said defences. The goal is to uncover repressed emotions. The therapist works actively to identify defences that prevent the patient’s direct access to feelings. Dr. Jon Frederickson explains: “As long as patients talk freely about their feelings, we listen carefully. But, when patients use defences to avoid feeling, we interrupt their defences so they can experience their feelings instead”.

The underlying theory of the ISTDP approach is very similar to that of the PPD approach. The fundamental understanding of ISTDP is that when individuals experience emotional disturbances or trauma the event may result in wide array of emotions that the individual may not be able to adequately handle. This results in these unwanted emotions becoming repressed and avoided.

How can ISTDP help?

The therapist attempts to help the patient clarify their triangle of feelings: their impulses, their anxiety and defences. A second triangle with which ISTDP therapists work involves using the feelings generated in the session to connect to significant people in the patient’s past, current conflicts with people, and their reaction to the therapist or transference. The ego adaptive capacity of the patient determines the rapidity with uncovering can be done.

“Working with ISTDP takes a great deal of training. Uncovering of defences is sensitive work. Once an unconscious therapeutic alliance is established, then, and only then, can interpretations be made”, explained Dr. Arlene Feinblatt, Ph.D.

This kind of therapy was developed by Dr Habib Davanloo in the 1960′s. The theory and technique of ISTDP have been refined and elaborated by later generations of his students around the world. It has been studied for over thirty years and shows powerful results. In minimal time and with minimal cost, patients experience the changes in character that they need for a happier life. It has been proven to solve a broad spectrum of psychological problems. ISTDP is meant for patients with psychoneurosis (environmentally acquired psychological illness). According to Dr. David Wolff, most people in need for therapy are good candidates for ISTDP.


Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy: A systematic review and meta-analysis of outcome research Abbass, A., Town, J., & Driessen, E. Harvard Review of Psychiatry Abbass, A., Town, J., & Driessen, E. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 2012, Volume 20(2), pp97-108.

Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy in a private psychiatric office: Clinical and cost-effectiveness Abbass, A. American Journal of Psychotherapy 2002, volume 56, pp. 225-232.

How can get Intensive short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy in London?

If you would like to talk to someone about Intensive short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: +4402038820684 or by email at:



      Counselling Psychologist in Training & Hypnotherapist.

      Adults & Hypnotherapy