Treatment methods for complex trauma: IS-TDP

Those who suffer from trauma today do not have to deal with the stressful situation only with themselves. Today, trauma can be treated better and better with various methods. A special treatment method for this is the intensive psychodynamic short-term therapy (IS-TDP). It was invented in the 1960s by Professor Habib Davanloo, an Iranian psychoanalyst and researcher in psychiatry and a professor in the same field at McGill University in Canada.

What exactly is IS-TDP?

The Intensive Psychodynamic Short-Term Therapy, as the abbreviation for its English name, Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy IS-TDP for short, is a psychotherapeutic method that enables particularly quick access to the unconscious.

The therapeutic alliance or the constructive, trusting relationship between the practitioner: in and patient: in is an important basis for the success of the treatment of the IS-TDP method. It enables a confrontational approach to fears and resistances of the patient: inside, who can experience and overcome these feelings inwardly and symbolically in thoughts and fantasies in therapy. IS-TDP can be roughly divided into three phases:

Phase 1: pressure

With the question “How do you feel about me?” or “What do you feel?” the patient’s emotional world becomes very conscious: in and thus the unconscious is addressed. In contrast to other treatment methods, the focus is not on conscious, cognitive, but much more on affective perception. The emotional closeness and connection with the treating person not only forms the basis of trust for further therapeutic work, but also mobilizes repressed emotional conflicts at the same time. In doing so, the patient is trusted and expected to be very direct.

Phase 2: challenge

If there is a trustworthy basis for the therapeutic work and the patients are stable enough inside, a questioning, critical note can enter the interaction. From the: the therapist: in perceived resistances are directly named and exposed as disturbing and destructive. It is discussed until the patient not only perceives the resistance as disturbing himself, but is also ready to give it up.

It is important that the patient does not feel attacked, but rather knows that it is their behavior, not their personality, that is being questioned. Anger and anger are quite normal in this process, as patients often identify with their behaviors and do not give them up easily.

Phase 3: Head-on-Collision

This phase means something like “frontal collision”. Patients are given the choice between holding on to the defense reaction and the underlying problem or giving up the defense reaction. If they are ready to give up their blockages, the patients also expose themselves to fears and that is not easy. Ultimately, however, it is the way to freeing blockages that have arisen in connection with trauma.

Goals of IS-TPD treatment

The therapeutic approach of the method aims at complex, structural changes in the patient. The aim is to permanently heal the symptoms associated with the trauma and at the same time to break open and change entrenched character structures without having to report on the traumatic experience in detail, which would tend to have a retraumatising effect.

Compulsive behavior and self-destructive relationship patterns that those affected have developed as a result of their trauma can also be interrupted and dissolved. In the last phase of treatment, in particular, there is integration and reconciliation with one’s own life, personal history and the resulting self-perception. This in turn enables better, healthier relationships and improved self-awareness.

How can IS-TDP be used to treat cPTSD?

IS-TDP has proven itself in connection with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). In this clinical picture, the treatment has some peculiarities.
Therapists pay special attention to the introductory stabilization phase. For patients with cPTSD in particular, it is an important prerequisite for successful treatment that they not only have a trusting relationship with the therapist, but also learn techniques for self-soothing. In addition, they should train their self-awareness and self-care and activate their inner resources.

Only then does the treatment move into a confrontational approach, in which feelings of powerlessness due to the trauma are transformed into anger and released, and then pass into inner peace. Through this emotional processing, patients can gain access to the content of their trauma and its chronological sequence and close memory gaps. Even triggers that were previously indissoluble for many cPTSD patients are perceived in a differentiated manner with the help of IS-TDP and quickly resolved.

Finally, there is also an integration phase in which the treating person helps the patient to integrate their trauma into their own life story. This is an important step so that those affected feel comfortable again in the now and take a life-affirming standpoint.

Victims of crime and violence in particular benefit from this method, because reliving the situation is unnecessary and only works with the repressed emotions.


Gottwick and Orbes: Intensive psychodynamic short therapy according to Davanloo . (2020).