Intensive Short‑Term Dynamic Psychotherapy

Focusing on unconscious processes

Have you ever felt pain in your chest, only to have doctors tell you they can’t find any physical cause? Or perhaps you’ve experienced severe anxiety or depression? These may be symptoms of underlying psychological issues that need to be addressed. One way to deal with such problems is through Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP).

Oftentimes, when people think of psychotherapy, they imagine a drawn-out process that takes a long time and costs a lot of money. ISTDP, however, is an innovative form of psychotherapy that has proven effective at treating a broad spectrum of disorders and has drastically reduced the amount of time required for treatment. Led by Dr. Allan Abbass, the Centre for Emotions and Health in Halifax focuses on ISTDP research, patient care and professional training.

In both traditional analytic psychotherapy and ISTDP, the therapist focuses on unconscious processes that affect the conscious life. Our attachments to others are vitally important to our psychological and physical health. When those attachments are interrupted or affected by trauma, we can experience emotions that we learn to block and avoid. Later in life, when we are confronted by those same emotions, it can have a negative effect on various systems in our bodies.

Where traditional psychotherapy and ISTDP differ is in the therapist’s role in the patient’s recovery. In traditional analytic psychotherapy, the therapist takes on a passive, observatory role. In ISTDP, the therapist is a far more active agent of change. The therapist will encourage the patient to feel emotions that he or she is trying to avoid. By acquainting the patient with those emotions, ISTDP aims to shorten the psychotherapy process. The therapist will help the patient to embrace change as a means of recovery and will directly confront any resistance to change the patient may exhibit.

Unlike traditional psychotherapy, ISTDP therapists will typically avoid interpreting the patient’s issues until after the core emotions pertaining to previously unconscious processes have been experienced. Even then, it is often the patients who are best equipped to interpret the emotions they had been avoiding or blocking.

Perhaps most importantly, ISTDP is driven by results. This treatment and variants of it have been extensively researched and shown to be effective with some patients with depression, anxiety, somatoform disorders (physical symptoms manifesting as a result of psychological factors), substance abuse, eating disorders and personality disorders.