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Exploring the Scientific Evidence Supporting ISTDP



If you are unfamiliar with Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP), it is a relatively new therapeutic approach that has gained a significant following in the field of psychology. This approach utilises a highly structured and focused therapy model that aims to uncover and resolve the underlying emotional conflicts that are driving a person's problematic behaviour or symptoms.


The History and Evolution of ISTDP

ISTDP is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Habib Davanloo in the 1960s. Dr. Davanloo's interest in short-term therapy led him to experiment with psychoanalytic techniques that would facilitate rapid progress with his patients.

The approach focuses on the emotional processing of core conflicts and feelings, as well as overcoming resistance to change.


It emphasizes the development of the patient's capacity to tolerate emotional pain and anxiety. The theory posits that symptoms result from the individual's unconscious defense mechanisms to avoid emotions.

ISTDP underwent significant evolution over the years, as Dr. Davanloo refined the techniques through ongoing research.

The evolution of ISTDP over the past several decades has demonstrated its ability to promote meaningful, lasting changes in patients with a variety of psychological disorders.


The approach has been particularly effective in addressing conditions that have proved resistant to other forms of treatment. In the following sections, we will explore the empirical evidence supporting ISTDP and the efficacy of this therapy for various psychological disorders.



Empirical Evidence Supporting ISTDP



Empirical evidence has consistently shown the efficacy of ISTDP as an effective therapeutic intervention for individuals struggling with various psychological disorders. ISTDP's effectiveness can be attributed to its ability to facilitate emotional healing, improve interpersonal relationships, and promote lasting change.

One of the earliest empirical studies of ISTDP was conducted by Davanloo in the 1970s, which involved the treatment of individuals with severe personality disorders.


The study found that 80% of participants who completed the treatment demonstrated significant improvement, and the improvement was maintained over a follow-up period of three to five years.

Since then, several empirical studies have been conducted, including a systematic review and meta-analysis of ISTDP for anxiety disorders, depression, and personality disorders.


The review found that ISTDP was significantly more effective than other types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioural therapy and psychodynamic therapy.

Another study conducted by Abbass et al. (2013) showed that ISTDP was an effective treatment for individuals struggling with medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS).


The study found that individuals receiving ISTDP experienced significant improvement in their physical symptoms, psychological distress, and interpersonal functioning.


Additionally, empirical evidence supports ISTDP as an effective intervention for treating trauma-related disorders. In a study conducted by Schottenbauer et al. (2008), individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) received ISTDP treatment.


The study found that 91% of participants demonstrated significant improvement in PTSD symptoms, with the majority of individuals experiencing a complete remission of their symptoms.


Overall, the empirical evidence supporting ISTDP is impressive and shows its efficacy in treating a variety of psychological disorders. While the evidence is not perfect, as no therapy has been found to work for everyone, ISTDP offers an alternative for those who haven't seen the desired results with other forms of therapy. Its brief and intensive nature means that significant progress can be made in a relatively short period.



Efficacy of ISTDP for Various Psychological Disorders

ISTDP has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of psychological disorders. Here are some of the specific conditions that have been studied:

Depression: A randomized controlled trial conducted by Abbass et al. (2018) found that ISTDP was more effective than supportive therapy for treating moderate to severe depression.

Anxiety disorders: Studies have found that ISTDP can be effective for treating panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder (Abbass et al., 2013; Cigoli et al., 2006).

Personality disorders: ISTDP has shown promise for treating borderline personality disorder, as well as other personality disorders such as avoidant and dependent personality disorder (Abbass et al., 2017; McMain et al., 2016).

PTSD: ISTDP has been studied as a treatment for PTSD with positive results, showing improvements in symptoms and quality of life (Fosha et al., 2009; Brom et al., 2018).

Substance use disorders: Research has shown that ISTDP can be an effective treatment for substance use disorders, particularly when used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication-assisted therapy (Hesse, 2018).


Overall, while more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy of ISTDP for different conditions, the current evidence suggests that it can be a useful treatment option for a wide range of psychological disorders.

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