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ISTDP (Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy) is a treatment method in psychotherapy. It is helpful for various conditions and here we explain what it is and how it can help you.

What is ISTDP?

ISTDP stands for‘Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy‘ and is a form of psychotherapy. It focuses on actively overcoming internal resistances that prevent a person from fully experiencing emotions. ISTDP is a unique and intensive form of psychodynamic therapy that differs from traditional psychoanalysis in its short duration and specific techniques.

The goal of the therapy is to help clients quickly get to the root of their emotional problems. This is achieved by identifying and processing unconscious emotional blocks that may manifest as psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression or physical problems. ISTDP is known to be particularly effective in the treatment of complex and chronic emotional syndromes.

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What is ISTDP?

ISTDP is an intensive and interactive form of psychotherapy that focuses on rapidly addressing underlying emotional issues. It differs from traditional therapy in its short-term focus and is based on psychodynamic principles.

ISTDP emphasizes the importance of experiencing and expressing repressed emotions for self-awareness and change. The therapist actively works to help the patient deal with resistance to change and builds a strong therapeutic alliance.

Therapists using ISTDP often work to encourage clients to experience their feelings directly and in the moment, rather than just talking about them. This approach can sometimes be challenging and emotionally intense, but many have found it effective in creating rapid and profound change.

What can an ISTDP treatment help with?

ISTDP has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of psychological problems and conditions. Here are some of the areas where ISTDP can be particularly helpful:


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ISTDP is effective for treating various anxiety disorders as well as mild to moderate depression, especially when emotional components are involved. It helps patients with bodily symptoms without a medical cause, such as chronic pain, by processing emotional factors.

ISTDP also strengthens skills to deal with relationship problems and improve communication and emotional closeness. Despite challenges, the method has shown results for personality disorders and is effective in dealing with trauma, post-traumatic stress and emotional blocks. ISTDP also helps with self-esteem and self-image issues and can help those dealing with chronic medical conditions and their emotional stresses.

It is important to note that while ISTDP can be very effective for many, it is not always appropriate for all individuals or all conditions. As with any therapy, it is important to have an individual assessment and discussion with a qualified therapist to determine the suitability of ISTDP for a specific person and problem.

How long is a treatment with ISTDP?

An ISTDP treatment varies in length depending on the needs of the individual and the severity of the problems, but is generally a short-term treatment. Usually it takes a few months to about two years, with significant progress often seen within 20-40 sessions. Sessions are usually held weekly, but this can be adjusted. The length and frequency is tailored to each individual, but results can be achieved relatively quickly. Progress and duration of treatment can vary, so open communication with the therapist is important to set realistic expectations.


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What is the difference between ISTDP and cognitive behavioural therapy?

ISTDP and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are both effective forms of psychotherapy, but they differ in several important ways:

  1. Theoretical basis: ISTDP is grounded in psychodynamic theory and focuses on exploring and processing unconscious emotional processes and conflicts. CBT is based on learning theory with cognitive and behavioural components that focus on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours.
  2. Treatment focus: ISTDP emphasizes the importance of emotional experience and exploration of repressed or avoided emotions. CBT concentrates more on identifying and changing irrational or destructive thoughts and behaviours, but it also works with emotions.
  3. Role of the therapist: In ISTDP, the therapist takes a more active and often challenging role in helping the patient to confront and process emotional barriers. In CBT, the therapist is more of a teacher, helping the patient to learn and apply new skills.
  4. Time frame: While both can be short-term treatments, ISTDP tends to be more intense and focused on achieving rapid change. CBT can vary in length depending on the nature of the problem and treatment plan.
  5. Methods and techniques: ISTDP uses techniques such as emotional experience and confrontation to process emotional blocks. CBT uses strategies such as exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and behavioural change.
  6. Target audience: Although both can be effective for a range of conditions, ISTDP may be particularly suitable for patients with deep-rooted emotional problems, while CBT is often chosen for specific problems such as anxiety disorders, depression and phobias.

In summary, although both ISTDP and CBT aim to improve psychological health, they do so through different theoretical approaches and treatment techniques. There is also more research on CBT than ISTDP, which is why CBT is the most recommended form of therapy, although both can be helpful.


12 common questions and answers about ISTDP

What is ISTDP?

ISTDP is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on actively overcoming internal resistances that prevent a person from fully experiencing emotions.

How does an ISTDP treatment work?

ISTDP is an intensive and interactive form of psychotherapy that focuses on rapidly addressing underlying emotional issues by expressing emotions in the present moment in relation to the therapist.

What can be treated with ISTDP?

There are many issues that can be treated with ISTDP, including common conditions such as depression, anxiety, relationship problems and physical symptoms.

How long does ISTDP treatment take?

Treatment time depends on the problem area, but takes about two months to two years, or 20-40 sessions. This is adapted to the individual’s needs.

What methods and techniques are used in ISTDP?

Treatment emphasizes the importance of experiencing and expressing repressed emotions for self-awareness and change. The therapist actively works to help the patient deal with resistance to change and builds a strong relationship with the client.

What is the basis of ISTDP?

ISTDP is a unique and intensive form of psychodynamic therapy that differs but is grounded in traditional psychoanalysis through its short duration and specific techniques.

Can you get ISTDP online?

It is possible to receive treatment digitally via video. Research has shown that the outcome of the treatment is equivalent to a face-to-face session.

Are there any disadvantages to ISTDP?

ISTDP has been shown to be effective for different problem areas but it is important to follow up with the therapist.

What is the difference between ISTDP and CBT?

ISTDP focuses on expressing and processing emotional blocks in the present moment while CBT is more focused on thoughts, feelings and behaviours based on learning.

What is therapeutic alliance?

Therapeutic alliance means the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist during therapy. It is particularly important in ISTDP.

What is an ISTDP therapist?

An ISTDP therapist is a professional who has undergone further training in the method to be able to perform it adequately. The basic training is usually 3 years.

Where can I turn if I need help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists who can help you feel better. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call emergency services on 000 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 (24 hour service).

What does ISTDP treatment involve?

Treatment with ISTDP (Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy) is often structured and intensive, and focuses on quickly identifying and working through emotional blocks. Here is an overview of what a typical ISTDP treatment might look like:

  1. Initial evaluation: Treatment begins with a thorough evaluation of the patient’s mental and physical health, including a detailed history of past psychological problems and treatments. This evaluation helps the therapist understand the patient’s unique situation and needs.
  2. Building the therapeutic alliance: ISTDP emphasizes the importance of a strong therapeutic relationship. The therapist strives to create an environment of openness and trust, where the patient feels safe to explore their feelings and experiences.
  3. Identifying emotional barriers: The therapist helps the patient become aware of and confront emotional blocks that prevent them from fully experiencing their emotions. This may include exploring defense mechanisms, avoidance behaviours, and internal conflicts.
  4. Focus on emotional experiences: ISTDP is unique in its focus on experiencing emotions directly in the therapy session. The patient is encouraged to notice and express their emotions in real time.
  5. Processing unconscious emotions: Using specific techniques, such as challenge and clarification, the therapist helps the patient explore and process deep-seated, often unconscious emotional issues.
  6. Overcoming resistance: A central part of ISTDP is working through the patient’s resistance to experiencing and expressing emotions. The therapist helps the patient to understand and overcome these barriers.
  7. Integration and insight: Through this process, the patient gains deeper insights into their emotional life and learns new ways to manage their emotions and relationships.
  8. Evaluation and follow-up: The effectiveness of the treatment is continuously evaluated, and the patient’s progress is monitored. The therapist can adjust the treatment plan based on the patient’s response.

ISTDP differs from other therapies in its intensive and active approach and its focus on quickly addressing emotional issues. It can be helpful for different problem areas.

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Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.