Intensive Short Team Dynamic Psychotherapy

By Tina Bjarnskov Cand. Psyk. Aut.

ISTDP is short for Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy. Like all psychodynamic approaches it emphasizes unconscious psychological processes (for example, feelings and fears of which we’re not fully aware) and contends that childhood experiences are crucial in shaping adult personality and behavior. 

The experiences we had with our primary caregivers are of special importance in this model. How did we learn to behave and how did we learn to deal with our needs and feelings to maintain the best possible attachment to our caregivers? Feelings and impulses that our caregivers did not tolerate for various reasons evoke anxiety and are avoided using psychological defenses. Anxiety and defenses may be completely unconscious to the person experiencing them, and the result later in life can be problems in relationships, problems with self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

How does ISTDP work?

In ISTDP your therapist will first try to point out to you when they see signs of these unconscious defenses.  They will then try to help you overcome the emotional blocks. This often means focusing on the feelings you have in the here and now during the session and pointing out the ways you block off both the emotions and the connection with your therapist.  Common defenses in treatment include intellectualization (rationalizing away your feelings), overuse of humor (to avoid feeling pain) or various forms of self-criticism.

If the anxiety becomes too high (usually because the clients defenses are being removed) we explore ways in which you can learn how to pay attention to yourself and regulate the anxiety to a bearable level.

When the avoided feelings are experienced, anxiety, and other physical symptoms and defenses decrease abruptly. The patient and therapist can then observe the driving emotional forces that were being defended. Thereafter, a healing process may occur in which the old, avoided feelings are experienced and worked through. Often one such breakthrough is enough to bring about major improvement in symptoms or in dealing with difficult relationship problems.

Who does ISTDP work for?

ISTDP has proven to be helpful for a lot of issues, and especially problems that has their root in childhood trauma or childhood neglect, such as anxiety issues or depression. It is a good approach for those who seek to understand themselves better or who seek to improve their close relationships.

For more information or if you are looking to start this type of therapy:

Please write Tina Bjarnskov at