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ISTDP - What's In A Name?

Many therapy modalities use an acronym for their name – ISTDP, MCBT, DBT, EMDR, CBT, EFT, AEDP, etc. Often, these acronyms are formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase. In the case of ISTDP, the full name is ‘Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy’. This long form name can give us clues about the nature of this kind of therapy and what makes it unique.


Intensive – True to this word’s definition, ISTDP is ‘very thorough or vigorous’. The intensity of the therapy is due to a focus on helping people identify patterns of behavior or ways of thinking that may be contributing to the symptoms they are experiencing. For example, let’s say I am experiencing anxiety. In therapy, we have identified that I had a spike of anxiety following a potential conflict with my partner. We start to notice that I have a tendency of avoiding conflict, and instead of working through my thoughts and feelings when there is conflict, I withdraw and distract myself with work and keep busy. This avoidance doesn’t resolve the conflict but rather creates a conflict inside of me which gives rise to anxiety. Therefore, to alleviate my anxiety, I need to face what happens inside of me when there is a potential for conflict instead of relying on my pattern of avoidance. With ISTDP, we are always seeking to resolve what is causing the symptom rather than finding strategies to help cope with the symptom. In this way, we are facing things head on which can at times feel intense.


Short-Term – Dr. Habib Davanloo, the creator of ISTDP, developed the model from psychoanalysis in the 1970s. Unsatisfied with the average treatment of psychoanalysis (3-7 years), Dr. Davanloo used video recording over the course of his 20 years of clinical work to distill down the most effective components of treatment to create this powerful model. He was successful in achieving his goal of reducing the average treatment course to less than one year, what he believed was ‘short-term’.


Dynamic - Psychodynamic therapy is a branch of therapeutic approaches that involve working towards a deeper understanding of one's emotions and mental processes. Its primary focus is to make the unconscious (what we are unaware of), conscious in order to resolve inner conflict that was created in situations of extreme stress or emotional hardship. These modalities rely heavily on the interpersonal relationship between client and therapist to reveal areas of the unconscious that become activated within close relationship.


Psychotherapy - Psychotherapy is a catch all term that refers to a therapist and client working together to bring about positive change in the client’s life. People often seek psychotherapy when they have thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are adversely affecting their lives. There are over 50 different approaches to psychotherapy which fall under 5 broad categories: Psychodynamic (such as ISTDP), Cognitive, Humanistic, Behavioral, and Integrative.


If you’re interested in learning more about ISTDP, feel free to reach out!

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