What is ISTDP?

Intensive Short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) is an intensive, experientially-based therapy developed by Dr. Habib Davanloo over the past 40-plus years. It is designed to help us experience (unlock) repressed feelings, freeing ourselves from the isolating and punitive forces of the defensive structures. It complements Zen practice on many levels by offering us a direct way of working with some of the obstructive unconscious dynamics that arise uniquely for Westerners. It not only gives us a way of understanding what can happen with certain aspects of deepening practice, but a precise methodology for working through certain types of obstructive states that can arise. It has the potential of really opening our hearts, and freeing still deeper levels of intimacy, forgiveness and compassion (buried under the repressive fortress of guilt). It might be noted that over the years Dr. Davanloo has taught modified forms of ISTDP, such as vertical, graduated, block formats, and so forth, but these variations are all based on the same basic principles found in his standard model, adapted so that they can be applied to clients with a wide range of psychoneurotic disturbances. Though the term “Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy”, or ISTDP, has come to be used by a number of clinicians in referring to their own formulations, on this site it will have to refer specifically to my understanding of Dr. Davanloo’s teaching which is the only one I’ve studied.1
The best place to get a genuine feel for this work is from Davanloo’s own writings, and especially from the workshops he conducts in Montreal. It is not an easy method to learn both because of its complexity, but also because, as with Zen, it depends in part on one’s own level of experiential understanding. Fortunately there are also a growing number of articles, books, and websites that offer more information than could be dealt with here; some, of course, are better than others. A few such sites, and a limited selection of books, are listed in the resource section of this site. Of course really the best way of learning ISTDP, aside from seeing video tapes of actual therapy sessions2, is by going through the process oneself.

  1. As this site comes on line there is a measure of controversy over what therapies can rightly be called derivatives of ISTDP, and which can not.  Davanloo’s ISTDP has been empirically validated, others have not.  Davanloo now calls his methodology D-ISTDP to differentiate it from other models.
    Zen Dynamic Psychotherapy  is clearly an ISTDP model of therapy which utilizes Zen practice as a means of further mobilizing the unconscious. The focus of ZDP may initially be more on issues that arise out of one’s life, or out of one’s practice.
    Zen PsychoDynamic Inquiry  relies heavily on Dr. Davanloo’s metapsychology of the unconscious, and utilizes aspects of ISTDP methodology, but works with them in the larger context of Zen training.  What we’re calling Zen training on this site embraces both the Realization and Actualization of a non-dual awareness in one’s life. []
  2. In most instances to do this you have to be a licensed professional, or enrolled in a certified mental health program. []