Jonathan Entis: “Defiance is the single most important defense”

In this interview, Jonathan Entis discusses his recent talk about defiance at the ISTDP academy. Jonathan is an ISTDP therapist and trainer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can find his website here, and here you can find the website of the New England Center for ISTDP which is a community group that he organizes.

How do you feel about the presentation the other day? 
I feel so happy about the presentation!  I am proud of the work that I showed, and I was grateful to be so warmly received.  I was surprised and honored when Peter Lilliengren first invited me, and of course wanted it to go well but you never know how things will land.  I really felt supported and encouraged by the audience the whole time and it seemed like an atmosphere where everyone was really open to learning.  I had a blast!

For the readers who don’t know you, how did you get into ISTDP? 
Well, this is a bit of a long story.  When I first started a graduate program in psychology in my early twenties, I tried a few forms of therapy.  I was a bit lost, but I also wanted to get a sense of what types of treatments were out there that I might want to practice.  I had read Diana Fosha‘s book on the Transforming Power of Affect, and I thought I’d go see an AEDP therapist.  I got a few referrals, but in the end, the person I started working with wasn’t an AEDP therapist at all, but rather an ISTDP therapist—something I hadn’t actually heard of at the time.  I was blown away by the power and effectiveness of what they were doing.  No one had ever reached me that way.  It felt like tough love for sure, but somehow I felt spoken to and seen in a way that I never had before.  After that experience, I knew I had to be trained in this way of working.

Jonathan Entis

The problem was that there was no training in ISTDP in the graduate program I was in.  In fact, in the States, ISTDP is virtually non-existent in PhD psychology graduate programs.  I would go through various training sites and mental health centers learning CBT, psychoanalysis, DBT, etc., all the while carrying the secret that what I really wanted to do no one could teach me.  So, I basically did a lot of reading on my own, starting with Patricia Coughlin’s first book.  I didn’t have any supervisors who knew ISTDP, but I’d be trying to incorporate what I could glean from her book and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t!  It was a lot of trial and error.   

At one point I grew so frustrated with not being able to study ISTDP that I decided I’d be a psychoanalyst instead.  I began training at one of the country’s oldest psychoanalytic institutes.  I loved a lot of the theory, but I struggled with what I saw as a resistance to technique and a dependence on a lot of vague terminology.  Eventually I saw an advertisement that Patricia Coughlin was going to be starting a Boston based core training group, and I jumped at the opportunity! Pretty much from that day forward, I’ve been consumed with developing my expertise in ISTDP.  One of my mentors, John Rathauser, has said that he developed his skill set by making ISTDP something of a religion.  Well, I’m right there with him on that. For the past 5 years I’ve spent 2-3 hours every day reading Davanloo transcripts, parsing apart all of his cases, and watching my own videos. 

Why did defiance catch your attention in this way, and why do you think it’s such a crucial concept in ISTDP? 
When Peter Lilliengren reached out to me to ask if I would present at the ISTDP Academy, he had just seen some of my work in a webinar I hosted with John Rathauser.  We both showed our work with syntonic defenses, and I was particularly keen to show my work there with defiance. I knew that I had something unique to offer because the way I work with defiance is quite distinct from what I’ve seen most others do in the ISTDP community. Peter’s invitation excited me in part because I knew there was a lot more to talk about with defiance that I didn’t get a chance to fully cover in the webinar.

In my opinion, defiance is the single most important defense to be familiar with as an ISTDP therapist as it is nearly universal in all patients, and is often fueling other defenses that are more apparent. As I talked about in my presentation, oftentimes when we are struggling but failing to help a patient relinquish another defense, like weepiness, it is because the defense is getting its power from defiance. If we keep addressing the weepiness without addressing the defiance underneath it, we’ll ultimately fail to remove it. It will return over and again, like déjà vu. 

But part of the difficulty with defiance is it is often invisible to both the patient and the therapist, so discerning it can be tricky.  Even once you’ve spotted it, working with it is so complex. It gets its power from all the major sources of unconscious resistance: repression, the resistance against emotional closeness, and what Davanloo referred to as the ‘perpetrator of the unconscious,’ tied to concepts of the punitive superego.

During my first years as an ISTDP therapist I was struggling a lot with the defense of passivity, and a lot of the supervision I would get was linked to my own overactivity. Passivity would get me stuck over and over again, and I was dedicating quite a lot of time to figure this out in practice as well as theoretically. Is your interest in defiance related to any of your own learning processes as a trainee?
Well, here’s the thing about what you’re saying. Davanloo did not actually recommend we counter passivity with our own passivity. There is a long-standing tradition within psychoanalytic literature that talks about this and recommends it, and it has made its way into our community as an often-talked about approach, but it’s not a Davanloo method. In fact, Davanloo maintained his activity in the face of patient passivity, and in many ways increased it.  You can see that in many of his best published cases, where he’ll have long head-on collisions and periods of pressure and challenge to the passivity.  I’ll leave it to you and the readers to make up their own minds about the best way to manage passivity in their own patients, but I tend to follow Davanloo’s method of actively confronting it, often weaving in a lot of de-activation, and head-on colliding with it. As I talked about in my presentation, when the passivity is fueled by defiance, this is the aspect that needs to be clarified for the patient, and then collided with. Working on the passivity alone is not enough; they need to see how it is intertwined with their defiance and any other dynamics at work. 

Personally, I tend not to like the counter-passive approach, and instead, if it really feels like an impasse that we cannot overcome, even with concerted attempts to understand and clarify the psychodynamics and relational dynamics at work, then I will acknowledge that with the patient putting in their best effort and me putting in mine, we’re simply not doing enough and it’s time to end the treatment (this is the ultimate pressure by the way, and at times can be the thing that turns the corner).

But to your question more specifically.  Defiance is something I struggled with when I first started, absolutely.  And even though I presented on it and have a lot to say about it, I still struggle with it.  The nature of patient defiance is to try to defeat what we’re doing; how do we not struggle with a force that wants to defeat us?  To me it feels like the ultimate resistance, and so it is the ultimate challenge to take on as a therapist.  As I’m answering this question now, I think this is part of it for me.  I always set myself very lofty goals, and trying to develop expertise in defiance feels like some sort of very worthy challenge.  And of course, like all of us, I have defiance in my own character, and I wanted to try to understand this better, too.

I know that you’re a meticulous Davanloo reader. Do you find that Davanloo has had the last word on defiance, or is there more work to be done? 
Well, one of the things that has intrigued me is that I think Davanloo sold himself short in terms of how innovative he was with defiance.  He developed a ton of techniques for how to deal with it, but the only one he seems to have written about, is de-activation. Peter von Korff, who studied with Davanloo, wrote a wonderful article on how Davanloo manages defiance, but there too he really only stresses the role of de-activation, albeit in various forms.  If you look at what all the trainers and books on ISTDP say about defiance, if they talk about it at all, is to de-activate.  De-activation is of course crucial, and is itself a very complex task.  As I talked about in the presentation, most forms of de-activation are actually essential components within the 16-component framework of Davanloo’s system of Head-On Collision.  So pretty much whenever we are doing extensive de-activation, we are engaging in head-on collision (although I think few people realize this!).

One thing that really intrigues me is that Davanloo could also be very direct and confrontational with defiance, but he doesn’t seem to explain why he switches between indirect and direct modes of management, and no one else talks about that either.  I made it my mission to really understand this kind of code switching he does, and why he does it.  Of course along the way I developed my own style of drawing out and speaking directly to defiance, heavily influenced also by my work with John Rathauser, but the tenets are essentially taken from close reading of Davanloo transcripts. I remember Patricia Coughlin told me a long time ago to pay close attention to what Davanloo does, not what he says.  Here I think she’s correct. If you read the transcripts closely, you see just how complex and layered his approach to defiance was, certainly way more than what has been written. 

I doubt he’ll have the last word on the topic, but I’m a purist at heart, and I’m quite happy to continue interpreting and perfecting his methods.

What do you find are some of the main countertransference issues that prevent the therapist from dealing effectively with defiance? 
Well, I think the biggest issue is that it often goes unnoticed.  We might see the helplessness, the passivity, or perhaps in another patient the compliance and eagerness to please, and we’re busy thinking about the best ways to address these defenses, not realizing that the bigger issue is the defiance that underpins them. We can’t address what we cannot see.

Another issue is as you say, our countertransference. Defiance in the therapeutic encounter is made possible by a projective process in which the therapist is put ‘in the shoes’ of a parent or other genetic figure who the patient now blames for childhood suffering and pain.  Von Korff does an excellent job talking about all that in his article, by the way. Of course the patient is not consciously aware of this, but a part of them is now enraged at the therapist, blaming the therapist, and intent on destroying the therapist’s efforts.  So even if the defiance isn’t coming out in overtly antagonistic ways such as sarcasm or provocation, we’re still likely to get frustrated by the fact that our efforts are failing to take hold. This can be particularly frustrating when the defiance is cloaked in a shell of compliance, and we’re proceeding along thinking we’re being so effective, all the while nothing is penetrating on a deeper level.  Soon the therapy starts stalling or sessions go on in a desultory fashion. Ultimately, our own needs to be effective are thwarted. Of course when we get angry as therapists, we’re prone to the same unconscious anxiety and defense mechanisms as our patients, so if we’re not careful we can get off kilter and engage in unhelpful re-enactments.

Moving on to you, what are you struggling to learn right now? 
Italian!  I used to speak it quite well because my wife is Italian and none of her family speak English, but because of COVID it’s been a number of years since we’ve visited.  My language skills are rusty.  With some Italian members in our Davanloo reading group, and IEDTA 2022 taking place in Venice, I’m wanting to take lessons again.  We’ll see!

I’m also shifting a lot of my time towards leadership positions, such as supervising, training, giving talks, all of which is new for me, so there’s a lot to learn there.  

See you in Venice! And as a therapist, what are you struggling to learn right now? Where’s your growth edge?
Well, I think the perennial struggle is to always be myself while also doing a technique.  As anyone who attempts ISTDP knows, we run the risk of sounding like automatons if we get too techniquey.  And of course it’s very distancing to our patients and ourselves. So, I’m always looking for openings where I can let my personality shine through while also staying true to the technique and the needs of the patient. 

I’ve seen that you’re starting up training and organizing community events in the New England area. What’s the community like around where you live? What are your visions for where you’d like things to go? 
Yes, I’ve been quite active starting up various groups and organizations recently!  New England has some wonderful ISTDP and EDT clinicians, but there’s not a real sense of community.  I know some people have tried to foster community in the past, but it hasn’t really panned out.  I’m not sure I’ll be any more successful, but I thought I’d give it a shot. 

Truthfully, I admire greatly what you’re all doing in Scandinavia.  The organizations you have host such great content and it seems like everyone really knows each other.  I’m hoping to establish something like that here, but I think it will take quite a bit of time. 

Beyond hosting guest speakers and organizing training events, I’m also really looking forward to the social aspect of the community. I’m starting to plan a long-weekend retreat that will offer training and also the opportunity for people to really get to know each other and build friendships. That kind of thing excites me.

If you dream a bit, where would you like ISTDP to be in say 5 or 10 years? 
Well, it’s so exciting to see all of the advances in research that people like you are making. So, thank you for that! I think as long as ISTDP clinicians keep publishing research and getting the word out, the community will grow and more people will have a chance to benefit from this amazing therapy. 

I’m also excited to see this new generation of ISTDP leaders emerge. Of course, those we’ve been calling ‘masters’ are wonderful, but it’s great to see a new group of ISTDP clinicians showing their work more and sharing their ideas.

Finally, I’d like to see more of a return within the community to reading Davanloo’s original work. This is something that has been talked about in the IEDTA listserv quite a bit, and Mikkel mentioned it in his interview with you, but Davanloo really did work in a very special way, and I fear that some of the best parts of his technique are not getting passed down. As I get more involved in training, I’m trying to do my part to make sure my trainees and supervisees read his transcripts to really learn the method. I’m sensing that there is a sea change with this, and I think a lot of other trainers are also interested now in sharing Davanloo’s transcripts and teaching from them. I hope in 5-10 years this becomes more of the norm in core training programs.

Yeah, during my core training, although we did study Davanloo’s texts, his texts weren’t at the center of our attention. What do you think might be missed if one relies too much on second generation literature such as, let’s say, the books by Patricia Coughlin, Allan Abbass or Jon Frederickson?
Well, I think all those writers are great and have made really wonderful contributions to the field.  They’re all doing ISTDP and they’re all fantastic at it!  Anyone who reads their books will learn a lot.  But they’re doing their own versions of ISTDP, and they’re all actually quite a bit different than what Davanloo did.  Once I started closely reading Davanloo’s transcripts, I knew I wanted to practice like that.  His intense focus on resistance, the way pressure is really applied to the defenses which then allows feelings to more naturally emerge, the moving and beautiful long-form head-on collisions or even just how often he used head-on collisions (he even does them with a patient he says is on the extreme left of the resistance spectrum–the case of the salesman!), all of it just really appealed to me as a very intuitive, honest and poetic system.  For whatever reason, that way of doing things makes sense to me on some cellular level, I can’t explain it beyond that.  So my concern is really about his style falling out of favor, or perhaps just being forgotten, in a way that it disappears.  I don’t know if ISTDP is any less effective if his way of doing things vanishes, but in my opinion it’s not as beautiful.

If you liked this Jonathan Entis interview on defiance, you might enjoy some of our other interviews, such as this dialogue with Kristy Lamb on ISTDP and addictions, this conversation with Howard Schubiner on “ISTDP light” or this Joel Town interview where he discusses the possibility of taking the ‘intensive’ out of ISTDP.

Johannes Kieding: Key Take-Aways from over a Decade of Training in ISTDP with Marvin Skorman

By: Johannes Kieding


Though this text is ultimately about my own perspective, this perspective has indeed been very influenced by Marvin Skorman (he wishes to be named simply “Marvin”). Therefore I want to briefly mention a few things about him, his background, and our relationship.

As Marvin’s time as a teacher draws to a close (after nearly 42 years in the field), I am reflecting back on the years we have had together. I met him in 2007, learned informally from him till 2012, at which point I began weekly audio-visual supervision as well as core training with him.

As far as I can tell, his perspective on practicing and teaching ISTDP is unique. I use the term perspective to suggest a particular flavor and emphasis, and as an acknowledgment that there are likely differences in degree, if not in kind, between how Marvin has adapted ISTDP to fit with his personality and intuitions and what may be termed orthodox ISTDP. I imagine that most practitioners and teachers, even those who aim to adhere rather strictly to a Davanloo-esque approach, adapt the model to some degree or another to fit with their own temperaments.

Marvin was one of Dr. Davanloo’s right-hand men in the 1980s, had a falling out with Dr. Davanloo in 1991, and the two reconnected in 2012. Mr. Skorman worked briefly with Dr. Davanloo again in 2015. Since the 1980s Mr. Skorman remained in close collegial contact and collaboration with James Schubmehl, MD. and Deborah J. Lebeaux, CSW, both students of Dr. Davanloo.

He has eschewed the limelight (i.e., having him give his seal of approval to this text was a pain), he has felt repelled by some of the “seeking and finding religion” culture that can be connected with ISTDP, and besides the little professional association in Rochester, NY with Schubmehl and Lebeaux, he has not wanted to be associated with any institutions or associations, though he is clear that he believes institutes have their place as bodies of knowledge and serve an important function in offering historical continuity.

He coined the term “ISTDP attachment disorder,” cementing his strong emphasis on flexibility and concern around formulaic treatment. The issues with being overly rigid and formulaic are not unique to ISTDP, but can apply to any therapeutic modality.

What I have learned and have carried with me from the years of core training and audio-visual learning from Marvin may be different from his other students and trainees, which in itself speaks to what it is like to train with him. Having had years of both individual and group supervisions with Marvin, it is clear that he approaches everyone differently.

From left to right: Johannes Kieding and Marvin Skorman

Some of my training experiences have also helped me clarify where I depart from Marvin in terms of emphasis, so my perspective is influenced by him, a product from working with him, but contains my own adaptations, elaborations, and colorations from other teachers, peers, and studies.

What follows is my assessment of the key take-aways that I have absorbed, carry with me, and have incorporated into how I practice and teach Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP).

INSIDE AND outside the ISTDP roadmap

A phrase Marvin sometimes uses that has stuck to my ribs: “Therapy is about two imperfect human beings — each with their own triangle of conflicts —working out a relationship.” Nothing supersedes maintaining this felt sense of connection to the patient, which includes factoring in who we are and who the patient is at any given moment in time. This includes being connected to ourselves as therapists in the session — aware of what is happening inside of us, helping the patient be aware and convey to us of what is happening inside of them, and directly addressing any barriers that eclipse this awareness and emotional closeness. What maintains this connection can vary a great deal: for some it may look very supportive, for others it may look like heavy pressure and systematic challenge. When this is accomplished, not perfectly but sufficiently, the treatment outcome will be positive, no matter which therapeutic modality is used.

I have found that for me and many of my students, what goes into making and maintaining this emotional connection typically involves frequent recapping and clarification work, always making sure that the therapist can picture precisely what the patient is saying, to the point where the therapy session takes on the sensation of patient and therapist “sharing the same dream,” to use Marvin’s terminology. I place a tremendous value on dynamic inquiry and exploration, which I believe myself to see repeatedly in a host of Davanloo’s transcripts (H. Davanloo, Unlocking the Unconscious, 1990, and Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy: Selected Papers of Habib Davanloo, 2000).

A sign that this connection is happening is that therapist and patient nod along together, sometimes even finishing each other’s sentences. It includes agreement around goals and the therapeutic task, but it goes beyond that. The patient should have the sense that the therapist is in their corner, and a sense that the therapist is concerned with their suffering. When this goes well, the patient does not experience the therapist as laying a trip on them, as pushing an agenda on them, and this sense of collaboration and togetherness continues even during heavy pressure and challenge (when and if heavy pressure and challenge is called for).

Not until the process of getting a clear phenomenological, descriptive picture of the presenting problems as well as the patient’s emotions is impeded by resistance does inquiry stop and give rise to focused defense work (prior to this juncture, tactical defenses may be briefly commented on). This can of course happen right out of the gate in the first minute of the first session, or further down the road — depending on rightward or leftward location on the psychoneurotic or fragile spectrum. Depending on ego-adaptive capacity, what “focused defense work” looks like varies a great deal.

It is important to underscore that some level of mobilization of the patient’s unconscious affective system is desired even during the phase of inquiry, but I distinguish between organic, lower level mobilization (tier one) and higher level mobilization (tier two) through targeted forms of added pressure on the foundation of a conscious therapeutic alliance. More on what I mean by added pressure in a minute. If I learned but one thing from Marvin, it was to not move to the second level of mobilization until there has been sufficient work done on the conscious therapeutic alliance, and when a graded format is called for, this added pressure is graded indeed (J. Whittemore, 1996).

Another prominent feature in the flavor of ISTDP that I have internalized is that even when a patient has the ego-adaptive capacity to face the de-repression of the unconscious, I do not automatically press ahead towards an unlocking. Some patients with higher ego-adaptive capacity want to take the edge off their symptoms and, in spite of seeing the down side of their defenses, are not interested in reaching “the top of the mountain,” so I go with what the patient is clear on that they want and thereby avoid a battle of wills scenario or a situation where I end up pushing an agenda on the patient.

I may say to a patient, “You have clearly made a lot of progress, but there are also signs you are not out of the woods fully. Is this good enough for you?” The patient may say that it is. If the patient has a track record of selling themselves short and not being honest about what they really want in their heart of hearts, I may press a bit, “are you sure? Are you settling in a way that sells you short?” But at the end of the day, if the patient says that where they are is good enough for them, then it is and I accept that.

There may also be sessions dedicated to taking a victory lap, celebrating the progress in the patient’s life, perhaps even ending the session early because the patient is wanting to just enjoy where they currently are, knowing that next week they may again wish to dig deeper. Bottom line: regardless of the patient’s capacity, I do not get ahead of their conscious will and I am open to the possibility that for some patients, unlocking the unconscious is just not where it is at for them, and other, different types of therapeutic work is what is needed. Remaining in touch with not just overt psychodiagnostic information but also with my felt sense (more covert, counter transferential diagnostics) helps me make the determinations of what, when, and with whom.

I also stress the importance of arriving at a dynamic formulation of the psychodynamic conflicts giving rise to the patient’s presenting problems. The triangle of person as well as nuanced, unique themes related to the patient’s intrapsychic conflicts are a major focus in how I engage with ISTDP. I am reminded of the many times Marvin asked: “What is the formulation here?”

A doctrinaire application of ISTDP technique

In the context of reflecting on past mistakes, seeing what trainees struggle with, and comparing notes with Marvin, some troubling trends come to the fore (trends neither Marvin or myself are immune from). I am thinking of trainees and practitioners of ISTDP being out of step with their patients for one reason or another. Some applying well-rehearsed straight-lines and rote techniques, others so focused on looking for signs of unconscious communication that they aren’t actually hearing what the patients are saying, yet others so focused on dragging patients through the central dynamic sequence — that the foundation gets lost, the actual contact and connection between patient and therapist is often not there, replaced by attempts at applying techniques.

The basics of dynamic inquiry, understanding how the patient sees things, ensuring the therapist has properly understood the meaning of what the patient is trying to convey by summarizing and underscoring key themes with dynamic significance, establishing a conscious alliance, arriving at a formulation of the core conflicts driving the patient’s problems, these are the type of things that appear lacking and stand out as problematic themes.

I recall Marvin speculating that these issues might boil down to what he calls “the suffering of therapists.” When he gives me supervision on how I supervise trainees, he frequently makes the point that the intervention-response principle is not just for our patients, but also for our trainees. The trainee’s subjective responses to the supervision are attended to and factored into the didactics — their anxiety also needs to be in a therapeutic range and if this is not attended to — if I offer my perceptions and suggestions without regard for where the trainee is, it often creates a misalliance between us and creates suffering for the trainee. For others, a “just tell me what you see and what you would do” approach works. I learned from Marvin to meet my trainees where they are and that a conscious alliance with them is just as important as with

Though Marvin truly adores Dr. Davanloo, he reflects on his core training with him and tells me that there was a major focus on unlocking the unconscious, and that he eventually came to feel that this single-minded emphasis on the unlocking of the unconscious experience sometimes came at the expense of not just the human relationship and connection with the patient, but also an openness to seeing other, unique ways of helping the patient not involving an unlocking of the unconscious, that may be more optimal. Having been trained in this way, I find it important to stay open to the collective unconscious between the patient and myself, and allowing interventions to come from that place — interventions that may be unique to a given patient at a given moment, that may never be repeated again.

During one of our discussions, Marvin shared the following with me: “Davanloo used to say, ‘With the help of each other, if we work hard, we can get to the bottom of your problems.’ That was his way of saying it [that the heart of this work is about the emotional connection and collaboration between patient and therapist].” Marvin continued: “So much of that essence of Davanloo seems to have gotten lost, the admiration and affection part, it somehow got ‘techniqued’ away. The technique was secondary for Davanloo, it came from his intuition, which I think is an invitation to all of us to use our intuition.”

Technique as a background element

With the emphasis on emotional closeness and connection with the patient, some may think that what I learned from Marvin de-emphasizes specific techniques. This is true. Marvin really is concerned about an over-emphasis on technique and an excessive attachment to diagnostic categories that get in the way of a human-to-human connection with the patient.

Yet I have learned a great deal when it comes to assessment and technical execution. Stand-out items that come to mind: working with malignant forms of resistance where “talking down to the super-ego,” is important (super-ego as a motivational force, not a noun), not “bargaining with the super-ego,” undoing projections by being different from the projection. For example, a patient projects their super-ego functions onto me and accuses me of putting them down. A defensive response aimed at trying to get the patient to be different would reinforce the projection. A response of, “So you see me as putting you down. That is concerning, if I am doing that, that would be really bad. What makes you come to this conclusion?” asked in a sincere manner will counteract this kind of a projection. Part of the needed therapist mindset here involves staying open to the possibility that the patient’s perception may have merit.

Another important concept I have learned from Marvin has to do with not allowing patients to manipulate me out of having an opinion, or getting sucked into colluding with the patient’s maladaptive defenses, i.e., pampering, coddling, or otherwise going along with an insecure attachment with the patient (insecure attachment reference — Jon Frederickson, personal communication, 2020). Most importantly, understanding when and with whom to do what with, based on an ability to assess the patient and engage with the interactive diagnostic roadmap that Dr. Davanloo developed.

Enter the head-on collision.

Marvin has had a role in my deep appreciation for the head-on collision. I have learned about many different kinds of them depending on the patient’s ego-adaptive capacity and the strength of the conscious and unconscious therapeutic alliance. A complete taxonomy of the different types of head-on collisions that I use is outside the scope of this text, but in addition to ego-adaptive capacity and the status of the conscious and unconscious alliance, the patient’s unique history, ego-syntonicity vs. ego-dystonicity of defenses, and severity of the need for self-defeat also factor in.

For example, with a patient with signs of fragility and a history fraught with rejection and abandonment, I may leave out the “if you remain distant like this, this process is doomed to fail.” Instead I may just say with a calm, edge-free tone, “So when you are like this, you are out of reach, and we are treading water, aren’t we.” I may add, “and that is of course your right, I am not going anywhere, I am here if you decide you would like to engage.”

Fragility does not mean that I do not point out reality, but I do this in a manner that makes it very clear that I do not need the patient to change, that I am not pressuring the patient to be different — the impetus to change needs to come from them. The emphatic “why do you want to do this to yourself?” interventions are truly superb, appealing to both the conscious and unconscious alliance with pressure on the patient to do something about the resistance, but I reserve this way of working for very different contexts than the beginning work with patient’s with fragility.

A few paragraphs down, under the “the problem of premature pressure” subsection, I give another example of a type of head-on collision that conveys both empathy for the patient’s conflict while still pointing out the reality that the therapist cannot be helpful while the patient remains guarded.

A different presentation, say an absence of fragility, ego-dystonic defenses, a highly malignant, destructive form of resistance may call for a head-on collision using a “talking down to tone” that not only underscores that the therapy will fail but also questions the point of even meeting, in line with what Dr. Davanloo referred to as conveying “studied disrespect” towards the defenses (H. Davanloo, Unlocking the Unconscious, 1990, p. 214).

While on this topic I cannot refrain from mentioning an article written by Allen Kalpin, MD, where he describes the head-on collision. It is titled Effective Use of Davanloo’s “Head-On Collision” (1994). The article covers a great deal about this intervention, from the “partial head-on collision with the character resistance,” to issues of timing, the differential aim regarding restructuring or unlocking, and the recognition that some forms of head-on collision are done prior to a rise in complex feelings and others after.

This article by Dr. Kalpin does a particularly good job highlighting the importance of not watering down the power of head-on collisions by being prepared and open to the fact that the patient may decide to leave and not try to change themselves. The article also does a beautiful job of underscoring use of silence, “not filling in the gaps,” the need for the therapist to not over-function, to not resist the patient’s resistance, so that when the therapist observes to the patient that therapy grinds to a halt, the patient can truly experience the halting and the self-destructive consequences of their resistance (p. 34).

The head on-collision is often critical, not just in order to undo the omnipotent transference resistance, intensify intrapsychic conflict towards the needed crisis-point, but also in order to cement and solidify the conscious therapeutic alliance and help the patient turn against her maladaptive defenses. When I help a patient see that there is a battle inside of them between the side that wants to remain guarded and the side that wants freedom, and ask the patient: “Which side are you on?” I am inviting the conscious will, I am “putting the patient at choice” to use Dr. Patricia Coughlin’s terminology (Personal Communication, 2017). When and if the patient convincingly declares that they are on the side that  wants to discontinue the avoidance strategies, the patient “turns against” her defenses and the conscious therapeutic alliance is solidified.

This may clarify that I am not anti-technique or theory, but instead I am against a technical mindset getting in the way, becoming a therapist-created barrier against emotional closeness. I very much believe that it is very important to have sufficient theoretical understanding, discipline, and skill when it comes to moment-to-moment assessment of patient-response, assessing ego-adaptive capacity, and ability to effectively intervene based on these factors.

I have wished Marvin placed more value on theory, an area where we depart a bit from each other. He seems to have an ability to allow his own unconscious to connect with the patient’s unconscious and be guided by that, which I very much admire, but recognize that not everyone is able to do, giving rise to a need for theoretical and conceptual structures.

On the topic of staying present with the patient and not mechanically plowing ahead in a cook-book fashion (allowing theory and technique to get in the way), I am reminded of a comment Marvin makes from time to time: “this is intervention-response, not intervention, intervention, intervention, and ‘I’ll see you next week.’”

The problem of premature pressure

A major principle that I have internalized is to not apply any added pressure — added as in additional pressure on top of the inherent pressure contained in inquiry into the patient’s problems and their will — without the patient having convincingly declared their will to let go of defenses in favor of facing feelings. Then again, the perceptive reader will note that in order for there to be a question of turning against defenses, some level of mobilization and pressure to affect would first need to be there.

This goes back to the two tiers of mobilization. The first tier can be achieved conversationally by simply asking about the patient’s priorities and feelings, making links, and reflecting back to the patient what is observed about their responses. The second tier is when I ratchet up the pressure but at that point I want a conscious alliance as the foundation.  Moving ahead to second-tier level pressure without adequate foundational work is what is often problematic, and not something I am always immune from.

In other words, I generally do not try to get a high rise on complex transference feelings before there is a sturdy conscious therapeutic alliance and the patient has begun to turn against their defenses. Since some variety of the head-on collision is often central to helping the patient turn against her defenses, this intervention (modified to be suited to the patient in front of me) is typically done prior to a high rise of complex transference feelings, and later repeated (typically in abbreviated format so as to not deflate rise in feeling) as needed. An early head-on collision here is not meant to “block” defenses but is done conversationally and matter of factly so as to help the patient make an informed decision around holding onto or letting go of their defenses. As alluded to in the previous paragraph regarding the two tiers of pressure, some level of mobilization is typically desired and needed even prior to using added pressure and the head-on collision. Again, I cannot help a patient meaningfully turn against her defenses outside the context of some level of feelings and defenses being stirred up.

In fact, not until the stage of increasing pressure and challenge where I aim for an unlocking of the unconscious by decisively blocking all defenses (blocking everything that is not the experience of raw feeling and impulse) — also known as unremitting pressure and systematic challenge —  does the conversational quality of the treatment give way to what is more clearly and overtly an applied technique, though Marvin stresses that even then, if the pressure and systematic challenge fails to enhance the felt sense of connection with the patient, it may be best to hold off on these more advanced interventions until they can be done without sacrificing the sense of collaboration and closeness with the patient. This portion is not used in the graded format.

In the context of defenses and resistance impeding the progression of therapy, and the patient being reluctant to let go of their defenses, I can’t count the times I have heard Marvin very calmly say something to this effect: “I understand, allowing people close to you hasn’t been a good experience for you so far. And yet this represents a dilemma in our work, because the one thing I need in order to have a shot at being helpful to you is access to your most intimate thoughts and feelings, and it is also the one thing you say you abhor the most, letting people in, close to you. So here we are.” At these types of junctures, this is a conversation, not an attempt to mobilize complex transference feelings (though it often does).

The bottom line: without a conscious alliance around facing feelings, I don’t exert heavy pressure toward feelings. Without a conscious alliance around letting go of defenses, I don’t exert heavy pressure to relinquish defenses. Not getting ahead of the patient’s conscious will is a central tenet in how I practice and teach ISTDP. There are no repeated “so what feelings are coming up” or “how do you experience that feeling” questions until the patient is on board with such a focus and has a crystal clear understanding of how those questions (and that task) relate to their concerns and priorities for treatment.


I really appreciate creativity. On this topic, I can think of several instances where Marvin has helped me think outside the box and be creative. Perhaps the best example of the creativity I have observed and be inspired by centers around his development of a way of facilitating couples therapy, obviously an adaptation but still grounded in ISTDP principles.

Since Davanloo developed ISTDP for individuals, with the aim of resolving intrapsychic conflict, and couples therapy primarily deals with interpersonal conflict, the adaptation component looms large, but the principles around emotional closeness and resistance against emotional closeness, and each person’s triangle of conflict are foundational in this approach to couples therapy. Unlocking of the unconscious is not the primary aim, but sometimes spontaneously occurs. The intrapsychic conflicts of the individuals comprising the couple play a major role in their interpersonal conflicts, so I attend to this dimension as well even though the couple itself is the patient.

This approach to couples therapy is elegant and often very effective (though I have no research to back that up, so it is considered experimental). A YouTube video exists that explains this approach in detail, you can find it here.

Supervision and Teaching

Influenced by Marvin, my approach to teaching and supervision is characterized by using who the trainee is, their life and clinical experience as a starting point, and then integrating ISTDP into that so as to enhance the trainee’s strengths, rather than trying to make the trainee void who they are in order to fit into a mold. This is hopefully how all teachers supervise, but I bring it up because of much it was stressed to me in my own teacher training.

When difficulties arise, my default assumption is that my training approach needs to be questioned or adjusted, not that the trainee is defective. Like most all trainers I assume, I encourage my trainees to find their own voice and integrate whatever they learn into their own personality.

If there is ever a choice between didactics — introducing ways of understanding what is going on with the patient and letting the trainee know what they could have done differently with their patients — or meeting the trainee where they are and modeling how to not get ahead of the patient by not getting ahead of where the trainee is, I opt for the latter, shelving didactics in favor of a conscious alliance with the trainee and modeling how to be with patients.

As previously mentioned, Marvin has remained apart from institutionalized ISTDP places of learning. On several occasions he tried to help Dr. Davanloo formalize and codify certification programs in ISTDP, but these efforts never succeeded. Without institutionalized backing, there is nevertheless a more informal practice around transmitting the recognition of readiness to teach to students in the community around Marvin. Marvin’s tenacity in fighting off my attempts to have him create something more formal has bested my efforts.

Closing remarks

As I am writing this in 2021, I realize it’s been 14-years of intensive immersion in learning on this path, and that capturing the stand-out items of this learning is a tall order. A text like this cannot do justice to the task of trying to capture the distilled essence of what I learned.

As Marvin heads for the exit, I mourn the loss of this teacher that has been so formative for me. To my mind, our profession is losing a giant who chose to live, practice, and teach in relative obscurity. His wish has been for his students to take what they can from him but then chart their own course, keeping the flame alive but in a way that honors the uniqueness of who we are as individuals.

I raise a metaphorical glass to him, to Dr. Davanloo, who made all of this possible, and to other teachers and peers who supplement and contribute to my learning.

References and acknowledgment:

Elad Jair Chone, Clinical psych. — close student of Marvin —  in an
editorial capacity, has graciously assisted in the making of this text.

Marvin Skorman, LMHC, Personal Communications (2007 – 2021).

Davanloo, H. (1990). Unlocking the Unconscious (p. 3). N.p.: John Wiley & Sons.

Davanloo, H. (2000). Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy: Selected Papers of Habib  Davanloo, MD Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Kalpin, A. Effective use of Davanloo’s “head-On Collision”. International journal of short-term psychotherapy, 9, 19-36.

Whittemore, Joan W. “Paving the Royal Road: An. Overview of Conceptual and Technical Features in the Graded Format of Davanloo’ s Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy.” International Journal of Short-Term Psychotherapy, vol. 11, 1996, pp. 21-39.

Dr. Patricia Coughlin, Personal Communication, (2017).

Jon Frederickson, MSW, Personal communication, (2020).

This text was previously published here.

You can find the webpage of Johannes Kieding here, and he also runs a YouTube channel, which you can find here. Since a few years back, he runs a much appreciated community discussion group on Facebook called “ISTDP Peer Community”, which you can find here.

Here’s a recent ISTDP presentation by Marvin and Johannes

In the spirit of having a nuanced and critical discussion on ISTDP, we at ISTDP Sweden have published a series of articles during the last year. In this recent piece by Ange Cooper, she talks about the problems of idealizing or devaluing ISTDP during training. Mikkel Reher-Langberg is currently finishing his work on a two-volume book about Davanloo’s work, and in this interview you can learn about some of what he’s been learning during the process of writing. Earlier this year we published to interviews on the topic of limitations of ISTDP, one with Jon Frederickson and one with Patricia Coughlin.

Forskningsdeltagare sökes: terapeuters upplevelse av digital ISTDP

Examensarbete: Terapeuters upplevelser av digital ISTDP

Några psykologstudenter vid Umeå Universitet söker CORE-utbildade ISTDP-terapeuter som bedriver minst en terapi via digitala mötestjänster för att delta i en studie. Studien undersöker hur ISTDP-terapeuter upplever likheter och skillnader mellan digitala och fysiska besök. Deltagandet innebär ifyllande av en kort enkät som tar cirka 5 minuter. Klicka här för att komma till enkäten!


Ana Latorre (
Victor Gustavsson (”

Ange Cooper: “I am my patient, they are me”

In this article we get to meet Ange Cooper. She discusses the many stages of learning ISTDP, detailing her own ISTDP journey through idealization, omnipotence, denial, depression, personal therapy, complexity, psychedelics and spirituality. Ange is an ISTDP teacher and supervisor based in Halifax, Canada. You can find her website here.

Shifting the focus to the person of the therapist

On the back of some recent conversations in the community regarding the teaching of ISTDP, you wanted to talk about your experiences as a learner. How so?
It’s time to talk about my ISTDP learning journey come what may. I have gone through many stages in my learning process and I hope by talking about these openly, it can serve as an enriching personal account that facilitates many other discussions regarding the ISTDP learning process.

Ange Cooper

So how did you learn ISTDP?
I completed my core training with Patricia in 2014, having first been introduced to ISTDP through an 8-month placement with Joel Town.  I developed a research interest in ISTDP and spent a number of days at Modum Bad Hospital in Norway being taught how to use the ATOS as a process research tool by the awesome Lene Berggraf and Pål Ulvenes.

Early in my learning I decided to do a block of therapy with Josette ten Have-de Labije as well as receiving regular supervision from Mark Stein whilst working in the NHS.  Following this, I moved to Canada to work with Allan and had weekly supervision for the best part of the last 5 years. I attended a Davanloo immersion in Montreal, then completed training with Tony Rousmaniere on deliberate practice with Tom Brod, Susan Warshow and Robin Kay.  I then went on to complete Jon Frederickson’s Training of Trainers course and continue to attend his advanced training which is now in it’s 4th year, I believe.  Amongst all of this I have had the benefit of thinking, learning, discussing and being inspired by many other folks in ISTDP, EDT, CBT, psychoanalysis, Jungian analysis and so on.

Besides learning, I have been teaching and training in ISTDP for a number of years now, having facilitated one core training to completion with another mid way through. I will start an advanced training group in November with Allan Abbass. 

All of this is to say, I have had a lot of training in ISTDP and have been committed – like a marriage – to this model for over ten years now. However, what I want to convey here, which I think is more important than my ‘ISTDP qualifications’ is the personal work I have done over this last 10 years.

But is this really a dichotomy – training in ISTDP and personal work?
Not really. I want to talk about the stages I have been through and how this has influenced and fundamentally changed how I practice ISTDP. I think this touches upon some of the points Mikkel raised in his interview but in a more personal and experiential way. 

It is my sense that this aspect of our learning isn’t spoken about enough, of course because it is personal and that can be scary and certainly vulnerable. So, I feel it is in some ways part of my growth to begin such conversations so that others may feel brave enough to do so and so that we can begin to consider how our personal and collective wounds impact our work in ISTDP. 

As Allan Abbass recently pointed out on the IEDTA-listserve, when assessing a patient video you have to consider at least eight central factors: degree and type of resistance, degree of rise in complex transference feelings, phase of treatment, degree of syntonicity, state of the conscious therapeutic alliance, presence of barriers to engagement, medication and somatic illnesses and the current front of the emotional system.

If you add to this the same number of therapist factors, well then you have a pretty huge number of interrelated factors all occurring at any one moment. Maybe someone who reads this can do the math as to how many combinations we can find?

So there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to the therapist side of things.
It is my deep belief that what we struggle with in ISTDP or any complex endeavour for that matter, is very much tied to our own unconscious emotional processes. This is why ISTDP looks so different between different therapists and within the same therapists across time. I do believe Davanloo developed a deeply healing model of therapy, however it is my guess that even he was troubled by how complex the model was to teach and transmit.

I also think he set up his mobilisation groups in order to address some of the difficulties that therapists have to overcome to do this work well. Including issues such as the therapists own punitive superego, sadism, masochism and tendencies to get stuck in a transference neurosis. Whilst certainly controversial ethically and massively problematic in terms of power dynamics, I can see why he may have felt a desire to help therapists overcome their own emotional difficulties in order to implement ISTDP in the way he would have hoped for.  

from omnipotence to depression and beyond

Coming back to you… You said you wanted to talk about your own journey?
Here we go… In the beginning I was immersed in learning about psychodynamic conflict, the theory of ISTDP, Davanloo’s publications and the actual skill/technique of the model. Just like when you’re learning any new skill there is the excitement and inevitable frustrations that show up with each new patient. 

As I grew as a practitioner, I met my skill development with an overidentification with the model, a oneness with it and it meant everything to me. It became part of my identity and my personality at some level – I think I fell in love with the model!

The desire for oneness with the model was so strong that with it came an idealisation of its power and ‘rightness’ above all other models and devaluation of other forms of therapy. I experienced very little anxiety during this stage and as such I had some very good outcomes – because I believed in it 100% – but also some very bad ones. 

We could say I went through an oceanic stage and into the paranoid-schizoid stage that Melanie Klein speaks about – I was unable to tolerate complexity. I engaged in splitting and denial, and I was filled with my own omnipotence.

Thankfully, but painful at the time, this stage didn’t last, the more patients I saw and the more experience I gained, I started to recognize that I was struggling with a whole myriad of patients. This is when I started to move into a more depressive phase.

What was that like for you?
I started to become overly critical of my skills and capacity, I even started to resent learning ISTDP and wanted to have a life beyond it. And this was the stage where I started to look towards others models, teachers and readings that began to broaden my horizons away from the “Fathership” of ISTDP.

During this phase, my practice began to look different. I was playing with different ways of working and trying them with patients, I started to believe that there had to be more than ISTDP to heal others and myself and so we could call this phase the depressive phase but also the beginning of an experimental phase as I grew. 

I could no longer do “pure” ISTDP, I was very much in “ISTDP eclectic”, or “ISTDP-I’ll do it my way!” Again, for some patients this seemed to be helpful and for others I continued to be stuck, frustrated and despondent. All the while, I continued to study and continued to seek supervision but I started to become depressed and began to wonder, what does all of this mean? I started to lose my sense of meaning and purpose for ISTDP (and of course tied to my life in general) and even patient work. I became a little more depressed.

At my lowest points, I started to realize that I was struggling just as much as the person in front of me, so how on earth could I help them? I recognized that I had begun to treat my patients as if they were different to me, at times ‘lower’ or ‘higher’ than me and that they just weren’t co-operating with me or this therapeutic model as I saw it at the time.  I started to disconnect from patients and simultaneously disconnect from myself – and my therapeutic work started to look more like a series of technical interventions that seemed to lack compassion or heart – what had happened? I started to have some very deep conflicts within myself the more this stage progressed.  Let’s call this stage disconnection or separation consciousness.

Due to my experience of depression and fatigue during this journey, I decided to commit to my own longer term therapeutic endeavours.  At the time I didn’t really feel I was of much value or help to my patients. I had lost my mojo for therapy – I felt lost. I actually wanted to quit being a therapist, it was too painful, too difficult, too stressful and it seemed to have lost its joy, meaning and purpose.

Getting to know your blind spots

We’re very grateful to still have you around, despite what you’re telling us. What helped you find your footing again?
Over the last 5 years, I have steadily been engaged in my own work, this happened to be mainly Jungian analysis. There was just something about Jung’s way of working that intrigued me.  I wanted to find deeper connections within myself, I wanted to understand my dreams, I wanted to understand the collective unconscious and mostly I wanted to feel that life was meaningful again. To me, life had lost its wonder and I didn’t know how to get it back.  So I started therapy, I also did ISTDP block therapy every time I hit upon some big emotional wave that I felt needed to be processed with an unlocking. This was a really useful combination for me.

In addition, and with deep gratitude to Jon Frederickson, I started to bring my most difficult cases to supervision and through experiential role plays he helped me begin to understand from an experiential level – not an intellectual level – what some of my own emotional blind spots were. Blind spots that kept getting in the way of my ISTDP practice. 

Can you be more specific? What where you learning at that point?
I discovered that I had major difficulties in recognizing when I was stuck in a transference enactment especially with highly resistant patients. An inability to see that it was I who held the motivation and unconscious therapeutic alliance for the patient, along with a completely unconscious tendency to resist the patient’s resistance. In sum, this was leading me to co-create the problems that occurred in the therapy room. I was a central part of the problem.

More recently I also gained a very deep understanding that I have been identifying with my patients’ projection of guilt – which has meant that my breakthroughs to guilt, my ability to hold complexity during phases of mobilisation and my ability to do head-on collision were seriously compromised. Because of my own internal, emotional dynamics/capacities I had been unable to offer patients some of the most fundamental aspects of ISTDP model, try as I might. I wasn’t even able to see what was wrong because everything was operating at such an unconscious level – sigh.

Can you be even more specific, what did this look like in sessions?
Mostly it looked like not getting to deep breakthroughs of complex feelings, I emphasized rage above complexity. I was anxious to get to an outcome and I only partially identified the resistance. This meant that it could continue to operate. And there was minimal work with the operations of the pathological superego, since I couldn’t see it. And my head-on collisions did not land and did not create the deeper impact I had hoped for.

The outcome of such issues was that often patients only ever had partial breakthroughs, the UTA was never fully mobilized and this then compromised the deep insights and character change that the unconscious therapeutic alliance potentially brings through to the later, working through stages of the treatment. 

This is not to say that I haven’t had cases with good outcome at the same time, but it is my observation of regular patterns that were occurring within my work at this stage.

Getting unstuck: the path of spirituality and psychedelics

What was it like to see that?
Oh my goodness, I am just as stuck as the patient!

We are suffering the same difficulties and likely of a similar emotional origin and until I begin to see the patient as me – and me as them at an emotional level – I cannot move this thing. I cannot do this therapy. I cannot mobilize the unconscious enough. I cannot see in them what I cannot see in myself. 

This was my most painful stage – but also, I suppose – my most liberating.  I could no longer see the patient as different to me, I could no longer hold this human being either above or below me – I had to begin seeing them as, well at one level different, but ultimately one and the same. This started me into a new developmental stage that felt something like unity consciousness-oneness-humanness – not sure what to call it. But it would be summarized as “I am my patient, they are me”.

Stanislav Grof

How hard it can be to stay open to that shared vulnerability. What impact did this realization have on you?
At this stage of both my growing up and – we could say – waking up, I started to become deeply interested and connected to spiritual writings, integral models of therapy, transpersonal ways of thinking (Stanislov Grof, Ken Wilber) and embodiment practices – and all of this finally led me to psychedelics. I have been hesitant to talk openly about this aspect of my development, but it seems like it is the time and so I will give some brief details.

As I started to become interested in the transpersonal readings above, I hit a stage of my development that spiritual circles call the dark night of the soul. Nothing interested me, I stopped wanting to hang out with people, I wanted to become very introverted, I was in existential angst.

At one point I even wanted to start meditating. Those who know me, know that this isn’t really like me. It was so not like me – but then I started to question who am I anyway – and so meditations began. Through meditation, reading, and becoming more and more aware of some deeply rooted conflicts inside of me, I made the decision to undertake some ceremonial psychedelic sessions with an experienced medicine woman.

There’s a lot of buzz around psychedelic-assisted therapy these days, with both MDMA– and psilocybin-assisted therapy closing in on medical approval within a few years. What were the ceremonies like for you?
I won’t go into these experiences in too much depth, but they have been transformative for both my own personal healing and consequently my practice of ISTDP. In short, through some intense and at times painful experiences, I feel like my heart has been cracked open and I have been able to heal some of my deepest wounds in ways that would not have been possible through a talking therapy.

It is really beyond words to describe the experience, but it has changed my life in profound ways – It has brought me to a place in which I feel deeply connected to a spiritual process and so slowly over the last few years my sense of meaning and purpose has started to re-emerge and with it my excitement and interest in ISTDP as well as my work with patients.

It has made me want to come all the way back to ISTDP (like the hero’s journey). Except that for me, I now place ISTDP into a much bigger, broader spiritual framework that goes beyond symptom and character change.

Do you think psychedelics has an important role to play then in the teaching of ISTDP?
It is too big of a topic to go into here regarding ISTDP and psychedelics, but I am interested in the power of ISTDP and psychedelics used together in some combination– and I am also very interested in the journey of the therapist especially as it relates to the ideas of ‘waking up’ versus ‘growing up’ and how we might consider both of these aspects within our development as therapists.  People can wake up but not have grown up and there can be devastating results from this, people can also be very grown up but never really find a spiritual path – my interest is in how both of these forces come together and how we can yield these forces to massively advance our field.

I have been considering the similarities between ISTDP and psychedelics for some time. From my perspective and experience, the process of breakthrough – into guilt-love-oneness-compassion along with an unlocking of memories from the past – is very similar to the experience during a psychedelic session. But no talking and less time. 

There is something very powerful that happens in both modalities when we melt our punitive superegos, when we surrender to the power and intelligence of something much bigger than ourselves. When we fully let go of control. When we become one with the experience. When duality does not exist. It’s something truly amazing, mystical and spiritual that happens that is beyond the rational or intellectual mind and in the realm of deep knowing-intuition-transcendence.

I think there is much cross pollination of ideas and potential for growth in our understanding of psychopathology if we are willing to be open to how psychedelics work and in what ways the process of change is similar and different to ISTDP.

Learning and teaching ISTDP

So what does all of this boil down to when it comes to how we teach and learn ISTDP?
I believe Davanloo created a powerful model that when delivered optimally – has both the patient and therapist engage in a deeply meaningful spiritual endeavour. 

Davanloo had clearly grown up enough in terms of his own emotional development that he was able to conceive, develop, research and deliver this model effectively and it is integral to who he is.  As I understand it, most of the issues in ISTDP come from the learning and teaching of the model, especially when we are all at vastly different stages of growing up. 

This would mean then that given the therapist’s stage of development, what is focused upon in sessions, what is heard, what is taught, what is practiced, what is adhered to and what is focused upon is going to look very different person to person. I have a sense that what we end up focusing on in therapy can sometimes be the unconscious issues that we ourselves are struggling with and not always that of the patient. For example, I am currently in a stage of fascination or maybe even obsession with the punitive superego, and I’m seeing it everywhere I go. It so happens that this is what I am deeply working with in my own therapy and musings.

When I see ISTDP at its best, it is the same feeling I get when I hear an orchestra play, when I watch a moving film, when I see dancers move in synchrony or nature working together. It is this deep flowing unison with what is, in the present moment and it is breathtaking. When I see Patricia Coughlin, Allan Abbass, Jon Frederickson and others in their zone with a patient, I see them as deeply connected, intimate, honest, open, speaking from their hearts and deeply aligned with who they are. They’re in synchrony with powerful techniques and a deeply embedded understanding of conflict, the unconscious, as well as a deep respect for the patient’s will. In other words they are in a flow state that transcends the conscious mind. 

All of the above, to me, is what provides the furtive ground for emotional breakthroughs that lead the patient’s own unconscious therapeutic alliance into resonance with their individual and collective wounds in order to create deep healing and change. This is some of what I mean in placing ISTDP within a more spiritual framework.

Following the above, I started getting the message to read Davanloo, Freud and Jung again from their original sources and, like most learning that occurs as a spiral, I noticed that I could finally read and understand what I could not previously.

It sounds like you’ve come a long way. So where are you at in your development at this moment?
I have deeply reconnected with ISTDP and at least right now, I am able to do this in a way that at times looks like the work of those I most admire except it is embodied through me. I am now able to mobilize the unconscious in a way that I couldn’t before.  At times, I can deeply hear and feel the unconscious therapeutic alliance as it rises, I can feel when a patient is complying or if they are becoming their punitive superego, I can feel their somatized pain as well as the rage as it rises in my body as well as theirs.

This is no longer such an intellectual endeavor for me, even though I am re-reading a lot and thinking about this every day. Instead, it feels like it is coming from a place of intuition and my heart and as such I am learning to do Heart on Collisions rather than Head on Collisions as I like to view them.

I am speaking from one heart to another when I press to feelings, when I identify and clarify defenses, when I stop being the ego to someone’s superego so conflict can rise in them. And low and behold patients seem to be having breakthroughs in a way that I could not facilitate previously and it comes without the intense attachment to the outcome that I once had.

Sadly, this does not mean I am having breakthroughs with everyone, I just know that my interventions are coming from a different place these days. It is much less cerebral and more embodied as a whole part of me rather than me being split into lots of separate parts trying to speak to the different parts of the elephant.

So, this is where I find myself on this journey now and I continue to grow through seeing new patients, skill building, meditating, video review, teaching and supervising trainees. I don’t know where this stage will take me but I know at least part of it is to share my experience, to enable others to share theirs, to practice courage and bravery in speaking my truth and to help those who are struggling to recognize that in any complex endeavor that involves body, mind, heart and soul – there are stages and we all go through them – some quicker than others. But still the spiral continues.

NOTE: With the permission of the author, the text has been reconstrued as an interview to make it more accessible.

This piece was inspired by ongoing discussions on the IEDTA listserve, fueled in part by the current debate on the risks associated with ISTDP in the Norwegian psychologist’s magazine as well as this Mikkel Reher-Langberg interview we did some time ago.

For a now classic text on idealization and devaluation when learning ISTDP, please see this 2004 article by Allan Abbass “Idealization and devaluation as barriers to psychotherapy learning“.

Below you’ll find some of our latest interviews:

ISTDP PRE-CORE: Introduktionsutbildning i Malmö januari 2022

Intensiv dynamisk korttidsterapi (ISTDP) utvecklades under 1980- och 1990-talet i Kanada. Behandlingsmetoden är specifikt utvecklad för komplexa och kroniska tillstånd där andra behandlingar inte haft önskad effekt, men går även att anpassa till mildare former av psykologiska besvär. Den här kursen lär under tre intensiva dagar ut de teoretiska och praktiska grunderna i metoden. 

Intensiv dynamisk korttidsterapi (ISTDP) är en modern psykodynamisk behandlingsmetod som betonar upplevelsebaserat arbete som fokuserar på känslor. Under 2010-talet har metoden etablerats i Sverige, och ISTDP har blivit ett allt vanligare inslag på landets psykolog- och psykoterapeutprogram. Vid Stockholms Universitet och Karolinska Institutet genomförs forskning på metoden som i nuläget erbjuds på ett femtiotal vårdmottagningar i Sverige. 


Om kursen

Kursen omfattar tre heldagar och ger en grundläggande introduktion till ISTDP. Utöver en teoretisk bakgrund innehåller kursen videobaserad undervisning samt rollspelsövningar där du får möjlighet att utveckla specifika färdigheter i att observera patienter och intervenera utifrån ISTDP-principer. Följande moment ingår:  

  • en introduktion till de grundläggande teoretiska principerna inom ISTDP 
  • praktiska färdigheter för att etablera en god arbetsallians och ett emotionellt präglat fokus för behandlingen
  • praktiska färdigheter för att bedöma patientens ångestnivå och reglera denna
  • praktiska färdigheter för att identifiera och hantera försvar och motstånd

Introduktionskursen är ett behörighetskrav för att läsa den treåriga ISTDP-utbildningen Core, om du önskar göra detta senare. Flera coreutbildningar kommer att starta på olika platser i Sverige under 2022, och vi planerar för att starta minst en coreutbildning i Malmö under 2022. Mer information om utbildningar kan du hitta på


Kursen riktar sig till psykologer, läkare, socionomer, fysioterapeuter, psykoterapeuter och studenter inom dessa yrken, men vi välkomnar även annan vårdpersonal som kan ha nytta av ISTDP-färdigheter i sitt arbete.

Tid och plats

Kursen kommer att hållas centralt i Malmö 24-26:e januari 2022. Tiderna är 09.00-16.30


Kursen hålls av och Nina Klarin och Thomas Hesslow. Nina är leg. läkare, specialist i psykiatri, leg. psykoterapeut och handledarutbildad. Hon är certifierad ISTDP-terapeut av ISTDP Institute i Washington DC. Hon arbetar med terapi, handledning och utbildning på heltid, och undervisar bland annat vid Lunds Universitet. Nina har arbetat drygt 15 år som överläkare inom psykiatrisk specialistvård innan hon lämnade för ett samverkansavtal med Region Skåne där hon nu bedriver sin verksamhet. Nina gick core för Allan Abbass och Jon Frederickson. Efter det gick hon en fortsättningsutbildning för Patricia Coughlin. Hon tar examen från Jon Fredericksons treåriga lärar- och handledarutbildning Training of Trainers under hösten 2021.

Thomas är leg. psykolog och certifierad ISTDP-terapeut av ISTDP Institute i Washington DC. Han är styrelsemedlem i den svenska föreningen för ISTDP och en av grundarna till det svenska ISTDP-institutet. Han arbetar med terapi, handledning och utbildning på heltid, och undervisar bland annat vid Stockholms Universitet och Lunds Universitet. Innan han specialiserade sig inom ISTDP arbetade han med KBT/DBT. Han gick coreutbildningen för Tobias Nordqvist och Jon Frederickson, och tar examen från Jon Fredericksons treåriga lärar- och handledarutbildning Training of trainers under hösten 2021. 


Kursen kostar 4500 SEK exkl. moms. Heltidsstudenter betalar 3000 SEK exkl. moms. Då ingår undervisning, kursmaterial och fika under de tre dagarna. 


Kursen arrangeras av Thomas Hesslow och Nina Klarin i samarbete med ISTDP-institutet, ett nätverk för ISTDP-utbildning i Sverige ( 


Kontakta Thomas Hesslow ( eller Nina Klarin ( om du har frågor. 


Skicka ett mail till Nina Klarin ( där du anger namn, fakturaadress, utbildning, arbetsplats samt eventuell specialkost.

Här är informationen som utskriftsvänlig PDF:

Ny studie: är depression ilska vänd inåt?

Vi har läst en ny studie som är den första att systematiskt undersöka Freuds hypotes om att depression går att förstå som “ilska vänd inåt”.

joel town portrait
Joel Town

Ända sedan Freuds klassiska text om depression från 1915, Sorg och melankoli, har den psykodynamiska traditionen uppmärksammat sambandet mellan ilska gentemot anknytningspersoner och depression. I syfte att skydda viktiga personer från vår ilska vänder vissa av oss ilskan inåt. Vi attackerar oss själva i tanken, verbalt eller fysiskt – något som kan leda till depressiva symptom.

I dagarna publicerades så – mer än 100 år efter Freuds artikel om melankoli – den första studien som på ett systematiskt sätt undersöker huruvida Freuds hypotes om “ilska vänd inåt” håller. Det är halifaxforskarna Joel Town och Allan Abbass som i samarbete med den svenske forskaren Fredrik Falkenström och britten Chris Stride analyserat processdata från Halifax Depression Study som vi skrivit om tidigare.

Fredrik Falkenström, en av studiens författare
Fredrik Falkenström

I den ursprungliga RCT-studien randomiserades sextio personer med depression som inte fått effekt i minst ett tidigare behandlingsförsök till antingen 20 sessioner ISTDP eller sedvanlig behandling (TAU). Resultaten visade att ISTDP var effektivt på kort och lång sikt för att behandla depression, och dessutom att behandlingen var mycket kostnadseffektiv.

Att systematiskt titta på terapiinspelningar

Den nya studien undersökte de terapeutiska mekanismer som leder till positiva utfall i ISTDP. När Davanloo formulerade sina grundläggande hypoteser om vad som leder till terapeutisk förändring betonade han den fysiologiska upplevelsen av känslor och hur detta tycks bereda vägen för patientens inneboende längtan efter förändring – den omedvetna terapeutiska alliansen. I Melanie Kleins efterföljd lyfte Davanloo fram skuldkänslorna: att inom en terapi få hjälp att uppleva tidigare undvikta skuldkänslor över verkliga (och fantiserade) aggressiva handlingar leder till försoning och läkning.

Forskarlaget tittade igenom videoinspelningar från studiens samtliga terapisessioner, och gjorde ett register över hur mycket affektexponering och insikt som ägde rum minut för minut utifrån kodningsschemat ATOS, Achievement of Therapeutic Objectives Scale. Affektexponering skattas enligt ATOS utifrån intensitet, duration och lättnad efteråt. Dessutom tar skattaren ställning till om affekterna bedöms vara defensiva – dvs. att personen exempelvis använder ilska för att undvika sorg eller vice versa – eller om de till större delen blandas upp med samtidiga ångestreaktioner. Insikt skattas enligt ATOS utifrån om patienten gör länkar enligt konflikttriangeln (känslor-ångest-försvar) eller persontriangeln (terapeuten-pågående relationer-tidigare relationer).

Konflikt- och persontriangeln (feeling-anxiety-defense och therapist, current relationships, past relationships)

Ilska, sorg eller skuld?

Den första hypotesen som undersöktes var om exponering för ilska under sessionen ledde till minskade depressionssymptom en vecka senare. Dessutom antogs att effekten av detta skulle vara olika stark hos patienter med respektive utan omfattande personlighetspatologi – effekten antogs på förhand vara svagare hos de med fler drag av personlighetsproblematik (t.ex. känslomässig instabil, konfliktbenägen, konflikträdd, grandios, självhatande osv.).

Det visade sig att denna hypotes höll: när en session innehöll exponering för ilska ledde detta till minskade depressionssymptom sju dagar senare – men denna direkta effekt fanns bara bland de studiedeltagare som hade en låg grad av personlighetssyndrom. Varken exponering för skuldkänslor eller sorg hade några direkta effekter på depressionssymptom.

Indirekta effekter av ökad insikt och arbetsallians

Den andra hypotesen som Town med kollegor undersökte var att effekten av ilskeexponering på depressionssymptom skulle ske indirekt genom vad som kallas för mediation. Samarbetsalliansen respektive patientens insikt antogs vara de mediatorer som indirekt ledde till minskade depressionssymptom. Se figur nedan för en schematisk framställning av denna statistiska modell.

Figur från Town et al. 2021
Den avancerade statistiska modell som användes i Town et al. 2021 för att undersöka sambanden mellan vad som hände under sessionerna och hur depressionssymptomen utvecklades

För gruppen med låg grad av personlighetsproblematik visade det sig att effekten av exponering för ilska verkade indirekt genom att öka patientens insikter. För denna mer högfungerande grupp var det alltså genom att de kunde göra vissa kognitiva insikter efter exponering för känslor som man såg minskningar i depressionssymptom.

Med ISTDP-terminologi skulle man kanske kunna säga att studien visar att patienter med måttligt eller högt motstånd behöver hjälp att få till tydliga länkar på de båda trianglarna efter en stark exponering för känslor. Om detta sammanfattande konsolideringsarbete inte sker så verkar effekten på depressiva symptom begränsas.

För gruppen med hög grad av personlighetsproblematik, alltså de mer svårt sjuka deltagarna, visade det sig att effekten av exponering för ilska verkade indirekt genom att öka behandlingens arbetsallians. När patienten som en följd av intensiv exponering för känslor fann att sessionens mål och uppgift var tydligare, samt att bandet till terapeuten var starkare, då såg man effekter på depressionssymptom. När exponering för ilska inte sammanföll med ökningar i arbetsalliansen såg man också ett samband i negativ riktning för den här gruppen – mer upplevd ilska ledde då till ökade depressiva symptom.

Till vänster: Exponering för ilska verkar genom förbättrad arbetsallians för mer svårt sjuka deltagare
Till höger: Exponering för ilska verkar genom förbättrad insikt för mer lindrigt sjuka deltagare

Med ISTDP-terminologi skulle vi här kunna säga att för patienter med mer skörhet (= mer personlighetsproblematik) behöver behandlingen vara särskilt varsam med hur arbetsalliansen utvecklar sig. En exponering för ilska kan inte ske på ett bra sätt om t.ex. patienten inte förstår syftet fullt ut eller om projektioner står i vägen, den verkar till och med vara kontraproduktiv då.

Depression som ilska vänd inåt

Sammanfattningsvis gav studien alltså stöd till Freuds hypotes om att depression till viss del går att förstå som ilska vänd inåt. När vi slutar rikta den inåt och får hjälp att uppleva den i kroppen inom ramarna för ett gott terapeutiskt samarbete så leder detta till minskade depressionssymptom redan en vecka senare. Dessutom visade studien att högfungerande patienter behöver hjälp att efter känslomässiga genombrott skapa en intellektuell förståelse för sina känslor (“insikt”), annars uteblir den positiva effekten, medan det för lågfungerande patienter är extra viktigt att känslomässiga genombrott sker inom ramarna för en stark arbetsallians.

Att ISTDP är så pass strukturerat för att arbeta med denna typ av process är en av studiens begränsningar – det är oklart om behandlingar som arbetar med ilska på andra sätt skulle finna liknande samband, oavsett om det rör sig om psykodynamisk terapi eller andra terapiformer.

Vad gäller Davanloos framlyftande av skuldkänslor så kunde den här studien inte finna att de spelar en så stor roll – så framtida studier får undersöka detta på ett ännu mer finmaskigt sätt för att kunna bekräfta eller avfärda denna hypotes. Kanske fyller skuldkänslor en viktigare funktion i längre terapier där ett mer omfattande arbete med karaktärsförändring kan ske – på bara 20 sessioner är det få deprimerade patienter som hinner bli redo för den mycket specifika upplevelsen av somatic pathway of guilt.

Om du är intresserad av att läsa mer om ISTDP-forskning så finner du mer material här. Du kan se hela listan över publicerade ISTDP-studier här. Här är våra senaste nyhetsartiklar om ISTDP-studier:

Post-core på Zoom hösten 2021

Känner du ett tomrum efter core-utbildningen och vill fortsätta utvecklas? Känner du att du har god teknisk kunskap kring interventioner, men upplever hinder inom dig själv att komma vidare i din utveckling?

Liv Raissi

Välkommen att få hjälp och inspiration från post-core – en öppen handledningsgrupp för de som har gått klar core. Fokus ligger på undervisning med videoklipp, videohandledning, rollspelsövningar, och målmedveten träning. Hela tiden med syftet att utveckla kapaciteten att möta och acceptera våra patienters och våra egna känslomässiga låsningar och blinda fläckar. Ju mer vi som terapeuter möter våra undvikande och rädslor inom oss själva, desto mer rustade är vi att hjälpa patienter att möta sina tillsammans med oss.

Den öppna gruppen träffas varje termin med nytt tema till varje tillfälle. Detta tillfälle har fokus på hur du kan öva på att hitta din flexibilitet som terapeut, vilket har visat sig vara en egenskap som stärker alliansen mellan dig och din patient. Hur balanserar man mellan att ha en specifik kunskap och intention som terapeut med att lyssna in patientens kunskap och följa dens intention? Interventioner, oavsett metod, har mest effekt när de kommer från en stabil, flexibel och icke-dömande terapeut. För att nå dit behöver man jobba med sig själv och sina egna responser, vilket jag kommer hjälpa dig att göra i post-core.

Datum: 10-11/11 2021, kl 9:00-16:30

Plats: Videolänk zoom

Pris: 4000 SEK exkl moms på faktura

Tema: Terapeutisk flexibilitet

Om läraren: Liv Raissi är leg psykolog och certifierad ISTDP-terapeut och handledare av ISTDP Institute i Washington DC. Hon är en av grundarna till det svenska ISTDP-institutet. Utöver terapier i eget bolag undervisar Liv på Göteborgs universitet och på Sapu, driver introduktionskurser (pre-core) och längre utbildningar (core- utbildning). Liv har tidigare jobbat utifrån KBT-modeller, framförallt traumafokuserad KBT (prolonged exposure) på en PTSD-mottagning. För att kontinuerligt utvecklas som terapeut och person använder sig Liv av videohandledning och principer utifrån målmedveten träning. Hennes utgångspunkt som terapeut är att utifrån en flexibel och följsam hållning bidra med specifika interventioner anpassade efter varje patient

Här är informationen som utskriftsvänlig PDF:

What’s love got to do with it?

On December 6 and 13, 2021, Patricia Coughlin offers an online two-day seminar on the topic of therapeutic love.

In a letter to Jung, Freud wrote, “Psychoanalysis is a cure through love”. What did he mean? What does love have to do with the practice of ISTDP?

Patricia Coughlin presentation
Patricia Coughlin

In this two day webinar we discuss the central importance of love in the healing process. Human beings are wired for love and connection. However, loss, disappointment and even abuse in close relationships creates intensely mixed feelings which prove difficult, if not impossible, to bear. Defenses against these painful and guilt laden feelings often become a resistance to closeness which prevents the giving and receiving of love. Unless removed, these defenses and resistances will undermine treatment efforts and perpetuate suffering, resulting in frustrated therapists and patients destined to live lonely, isolated lives.

ISTDP is a method of therapy designed to dismantle these defenses and resistances in order to reach the patient and free him to love and be loved. Rilke wrote, “For one human being to love another. That is the most difficult of all our tasks, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” This is just as true for us, as for our patients. Are we open, available, engaged and responsive or hiding behind our theories and techniques. It is my contention that we must BE the change we seek to facilitate in others. We will discuss and share our experience of love in the therapeutic process.

We will follow a number of cases from beginning to end in order to observe the process of healing wounds that impair our ability to give and receive love.

When Davanloo started to innovate, he recorded sessions and reviewed them with patients, once their therapy had concluded. It was during one of these feedback sessions that a patient alerted Davanloo to interpersonal defenses, designed to keep the therapist and others, at an emotional distance. He came to refer to these strategies as “tactical defenses” which operate as a resistance to emotional closeness. Unless such defenses and resistances are recognized and removed, treatment will remain superficial and largely ineffective.

We will observe a number of cases in which defenses against emotional closeness figure prominently. We will follow the process from defense to feeling to insight and change in several cases. We will use the case of “Broken Bird” and “The Man with Pain and Depression” and “The Man who couldn’t get divorced” to illustrate the process through which the unresolved conflicts from the past block the patient’s inability to give and receive love.

For more information and tickets: click here.

The event is organized by ISTDP Israel.

Mikkel Reher-Langberg: “Vi använder Davanloos ord, men musiken är annorlunda.”

I den här intervjun med Mikkel Reher-Langberg diskuterar vi hans kommande bok om Davanloo och ISTDP och mycket annat. Mikkel är psykolog och ordförande för det danska ISTDP-sällskapet. År 2018 gav han ut en bok om Freuds jagbegrepp, Faces of the Freudian ‘I’: The Structure of the Ego in Psychoanalysis. Tillsammans med några kollegor så driver han sedan några år tillbaka den privata mottagningen Emotion center i Köpenhamn.

Klik her for at se den danske version af denne tekst. Click here to read the english version of this text.

Vad är det som upptar dig just nu?
Som du vet arbetar jag på heltid på en privat ISTDP-klinik i Köpenhamn, och jag är fortfarande mycket upptagen med att lära mig hur jag ska arbeta med ISTDP. Vid sidan av det kliniska arbetet är jag på väg att skriva den bok vi ska prata om här. Dessutom har jag varit upptagen med meditation de senaste åren, vilket jag hoppas kunna ägna mig mer åt när boken är klar.

Porträtt Mikkel Reher-Langberg
Mikkel Reher-Langberg

Du håller på att avsluta arbetet med den här boken i två band om ISTDP. När jag hört dig prata om den så har jag fått intrycket av att du vill bidra till någon slags “back to the roots”-process: tillbaka till Davanloos fundament. Vad är bakgrunden till boken? 
Bakgrunden är att jag under de senaste åren har studerat för John Rathauser. Han har en stil som ligger mycket nära Davanloos teknik runt 1990. Jag såg Johns arbete på IEDTA-kongressen i Amsterdam 2016 och blev helt såld på hans stil. Jag lärde mig grunderna inom ISTDP genom Jon Fredericksons och Allan Abbass format och stilar, och har sedan jag började arbeta med John arbetat för att förstå vad som är hans unika stil. Med tiden blev Johns och mitt samarbete närmare och mer av en vänskap, och jag tror att John efter ett tag kunde se att jag ofta förstod och artikulerade hans arbete på ett sätt som han själv inte kunde. Trots att hans kliniska intuition är mycket starkare än min egen. 

John Rathauser

Vid ett tillfälle föreslog John att vi skulle skriva en bok tillsammans och dra nytta av våra olika styrkor. Det var i början av 2019. Jag föreslog att vi skulle skriva boken som en introduktion till Davanloo, vilket vi snabbt blev eniga om. Jag har i första hand intresserat mig för bokens första band, som är ett försök att presentera en sammanhängande presentation av Davanloos teori och metodik. Den andra volymen består av Johns fall, som vi har skrivit kommentarer till. Skrivandet av boken har för mig personligen varit ett sätt att integrera min förståelse av Johns arbete genom en mycket nära läsning av Davanloo.

Har du lust att berätta om några av de centrala fynd du gjort när du närläst Davanloo på det sättet som du gjort?
Det är svårt att peka ut enskilda fynd. Att vända mig tillbaka till Davanloo har krävt en grundläggande omstrukturering av vad jag trodde att jag visste om ISTDP. Det jag har varit mest intresserad av utöver Davanloos begreppsapparat har varit Davanloos sätt att tänka på och orientera det kliniska arbetet. Jag har försökt avkoda logiken i hans kliniska tänkande genom att undersöka kontrasterna mellan hans stil och senare versioner av ISTDP. På så sätt kanske jag lägger för stor vikt vid skillnaderna mellan Davanloo och andra lärare, snarare än likheterna. 

Med detta sagt anser jag samtidigt att det finns en kvalitativ skillnad mellan det sätt på vilket de flesta av oss förstår ISTDP i dag och det sätt på vilket jag anser att Davanloo förstod sitt hantverk på. Vi använder alla samma ord som Davanloo, men musiken är annorlunda, och jag tror inte att det bara beror på att Davanloo hade/har en djupare klinisk intuition än vad de flesta av oss andra. 

Ett område där jag anser att detta visar sig tydligt är att många idag verkar förstå ISTDP som en känslofokuserad eller upplevelsebaserad terapi. Till exempel har den svenska ISTDP-gruppen på Facebook en banner som säger “the deeper you feel, the more you heal”. Detta kan verka oskyldigt, men i praktiken innebär det att många ISTDP-terapeuter är mest intresserade av att “komma till känslorna”, som om det vore ett mål i sig självt att uppleva känslor. 

Detta perspektiv har naturligtvis sina styrkor, precis som andra terapiformer har sina styrkor, men jag anser att det är ett perspektiv som skiljer sig kvalitativt från Davanloos – åtminstone det perspektiv han hade fram till slutet av 1990-talet. De känslor han är (eller var) intresserad av är särskilt de som är förknippade med arbete med motstånd, och de är inte ett mål i sig – de är ett medel för att få en djupare förståelse för och arbeta sig igenom patientens omedvetna. På så sätt använder Davanloo motstånd på ett annat sätt än vad de flesta ISTDP-terapeuter gör idag, vilket har konsekvenser för hur arbetet ser ut i praktiken.

Du säger nästan att det är att tala om en ny terapiform som utvecklats “post Davanloo”. Kan du gå in mer på detaljerna i vad som är så annorlunda, kanske med ett kliniskt exempel? Hur är Davanloo/Rathauser-ISTDP skiljt från Frederickson/Abbass-ISTDP? 
Jag tycker verkligen att det är värt att överväga om det är samma form av terapi! En konkret klinisk skillnad är att många i dag har lärt sig att “gå igenom” motstånd, genom att välja vad man skulle kunna kalla “minsta motståndets väg”, medan Davanloo följer “största motståndets väg”. Men jag tror att den största skillnaden ligger i förståelsen av terapin – inte i de tekniska interventionerna. 

Om du ändrar andan i en metod, är den då fortfarande densamma? Det är svårt att ge ett kliniskt exempel, men vi kanske kan jämföra det med yoga. Om du använder de olika positionerna som gymnastik eller styrketräning, är det då fortfarande samma sak som att använda yoga som en andlig praktik? Om man förstår ISTDP som en form av exponering för känslomässig intimitet, där den terapeutiska potentialen ligger i att underlätta genombrott av känslor eller korrigerande känslomässiga upplevelser med terapeuten, vilket många gör, överskuggar det lätt den del av arbetet som handlar om att skapa insikt i det omedvetna. Vi kan säga att det ena inte utesluter det andra, men i praktiken tror jag fortfarande att många använder metoden som om exponering av de egna känslorna vore ett mål i sig. 

Det finns mycket gott i det – men jag tror att det är viktigt att vara medveten om vart det gör med terapin som helhet.

Du har tidigare skrivit en bok om Freuds jagbegrepp och intresserat dig en del för filosofi – saker som passar väl in i den psykoanalytiska litterära traditionen. Borde vi som håller på med ISTDP intressera oss mer för att läsa klassiska originaltexter? Eller är det en positiv sak att fokus i ISTDP-communityt snarare är på hantverket och att se på videoinspelningar? 
Både ja och nej – jag är inte säker på att den psykoanalytiska litteraturen är relevant för vår metod, precis som man inte lär sig att springa hundrameterslopp av en maratonlöpare. Vi använder oss inte av överföringsneuros, så det är svårt att jämföra metoderna annat än i princip. Om det ska ske ett utbyte tror jag att det finns något vackert, seriöst och generöst i vårt sätt att utbilda inom ISTDP som jag tror att den psykoanalytiska miljön skulle kunna dra nytta av. 

Ett område där jag tror att det skulle vara fruktbart att inkludera mer psykoanalytisk teori är för att förstå de psykiska nivåerna som är djupare än känslolivet. Den psykoanalytiska traditionen har ett språk för de drivkrafter och den intersubjektiva dynamik som ger upphov till manifesta känslor som vi inte alls har i ISTDP-miljön. Att införliva detta kommer att ha betydelse för hur vi förstår den terapeutiska processen som helhet. Jag tror att en av de nästa saker som kommer att behövas i ISTDP-miljön är att fler människor engagerar sig i konceptualiseringen av fas 6/7 i den centrala dynamiska sekvensen – alltså working through – som vi tyvärr inte har någon sammanhängande förståelse av för närvarande. Denna fas är nära relaterad till det sätt på vilket vi ser på själva meningsskapandet och den terapeutiska mekanismen bakom det vi håller på med. Där tror jag att det är nödvändigt att återvända till den psykoanalytiska traditionen för att få hjälp och utvidga våra perspektiv. 

Vad ser du som de stora utmaningarna för ISTDP-communityt under de kommande åren?
Jag tror att det finns många som började lära sig ISTDP ungefär samtidigt som Co-Creating Change kom ut, som har ägnat mycket tid åt teknik och som nu befinner sig vid en punkt i sin utveckling som terapeuter där de behöver något som hjälper dem att utveckla en djupare förståelse för själva den terapeutiska processen. Jag tror att vi behöver litteratur och utbildning som fokuserar på de stora processerna så att vi kan börja använda tekniken på ett smidigare sätt. 

Utöver detta har jag personligen två saker som jag skulle vilja se inom en snar framtid. För det första att någon skulle utveckla en fenomenologi för metoden – en beskrivning av strukturerna i patientens och terapeutens inre upplevelser av processen. För det andra att någon skrev mer detaljerat om terapeutens användning av försvar i processen och hur de vanligtvis ser ut. Tyvärr tror jag att vi som miljö kan ha en tendens att lägga större vikt vid patientens försvar av processen än vid våra egna, och jag tror att många av metodens tekniska fallgropar, med tanke på den senaste debatten om dess skadeverkningar, skulle kunna avhjälpas genom att vi fokuserar mer på vår egen neurotiska användning av tekniken.

Vad skulle en sådan fenomenologi beskriva och innehålla? Vill du spekulera lite?
Hur upplevs det när terapiprocessen tiltar över till överföringen? Hur upplevs det när den omedvetna alliansen är hög jämfört med när den är låg? Hur upplevs det när den medvetna alliansen är stadigt etablerad jämfört med när den inte är det? Hur upplevs ökningar i komplexa överföringskänslor innan de bryter igenom? Hur upplevs skiftet från före till efter instant repression? Hur är upplevelsen av att få en projektion deaktiverad? Hur känns det att få sitt centrala motstånd utmanat på rätt sätt, och hur känns det när terapeuten bara hamrar på utan att ha klargjort vad syftet med det är? 

Jag tror att den här typen av beskrivningar skulle göra det lättare, särskilt för nya terapeuter som ännu inte har utvecklat sin egen erfarenhet av motöverföring, att förstå patienten. För att kunna finjustera sin metod utifrån den erfarenhet som patienten uttrycker, utöver att använda sig av de mer grova objektiva tecknen såsom suckar.

Vad kämpar du med att lära dig som ISTDP-terapeut just nu? 
Jag arbetar mest med att stabilisera min empatiska inlevelseförmåga. En sida av detta är att jag försöker hitta ett sätt att sluta använda ISTDP-terapeutrollen som ett försvar mot känslomässig intimitet. En annan är att jag försöker att lära mig att ha ett grepp om metoden som varken är för hårt eller för löst.

Det här är något som jag och många av läsarna säkert känner igen sig i – att vi använder ISTDP-terapeutrollen som ett försvar. Tror du att ISTDP är extra sårbart för den här typen av problem, med tanke på det fokus som vi lägger vid det tekniska hantverket?
Ja, jag tror att vi som ISTDP-terapeuter är sårbara på minst två områden. Den ena är den höga känslomässiga intensiteten i kontakten med patienten som ligger till grund för metoden. Det andra är att vi har mycket tydliga och högkvalitativa förebilder att förhålla oss till redan från början av vårt arbete, både när det gäller tekniska instruktioner och specifika lärares arbete. På så sätt har vi mycket stora skor att fylla, och de flesta av oss som är intresserade av ISTDP är mycket ambitiösa för vår egen och våra patienters räkning. 

Om vi tänker efter är det nästan en traumatisk situation att försätta sig i, särskilt som nyutbildad psykolog. När vi sitter där och måste navigera på en hög nivå av känslomässig intensitet som vi inte förstår helt och hållet, på en mycket hög teknisk nivå som vi inte behärskar helt och hållet, men som vi måste övertyga oss själva om att vi behärskar. Och som vi tror att vi måste övertyga patienten och våra kollegor om att vi behärskar. Då är scenen liksom bäddad för att vi ska få en terapeuteneuros, där vår terapeutpersonlighet inte underlättar vår personliga utveckling i arbetet, utan står i vägen för den eftersom den inte avspeglar oss. 

ISTDP förutsätter att vi kan gå hela vägen från inquiry till unlocking. Vi måste ha styr på systemet som helhet innan det verkligen fungerar, och på så sätt blir inlärningen av metoden som att lägga ett pussel där motivet hela tiden förändras. På så sätt är det logiskt att vi kanske mer än terapeuter från andra terapiinriktningar får en slags prematur terapeutidentitet som en del av vår utveckling.

Om du uppskattade den här intervjun med Mikkel Reher-Langberg så kanske du är nyfiken på våra andra intervjuer:

Mikkel Reher-Langberg: “We all use the same words as Davanloo, but the music is different”

In this interview with Mikkel Reher-Langberg, we discuss his upcoming book on Davanloo and ISTDP and much more. Mikkel is a psychologist and president of the Danish ISTDP Society. In 2018, he published a book on Freud’s concept of the self, Faces of the Freudian ‘I’: The Structure of the Ego in Psychoanalysis. Together with some colleagues, he has been running the private clinic Emotion center in Copenhagen for a few years now.

Dansk version. Svensk version.

What’s on your mind right now?
As you know, I work full-time at a private ISTDP clinic in Copenhagen, and I’m still very busy learning how to work with ISTDP. Alongside the clinical work, I am in the process of writing the book we are going to talk about here. In addition, I have been busy with meditation for the past few years, which I hope to be able to do more of when the book is finished.

Porträtt Mikkel Reher-Langberg
Mikkel Reher-Langberg

You are finishing work on this two-volume book on ISTDP. From hearing you talk about it, I get the impression that you want to contribute to some kind of “back to the roots” process: back to Davanloo’s foundations. What is the background to the book?
The background is that I have been studying with John Rathauser for the past few years. He works in a style that is very close to Davanloo’s technique around 1990. I saw John’s work at the IEDTA congress in Amsterdam in 2016 and was completely sold on his style. I learned the basics of ISTDP through Jon Frederickson’s and Allan Abbass’ formats and styles, and since I started working with John I’ve tried to understand what is unique about his style. Over time, our collaboration has become closer and more of a friendship, and I think after a while John could see that I often understood and articulated his work in a way that he could not. Despite the fact that his clinical intuition is much stronger than my own.

John Rathauser portrait
John Rathauser

At one point, John suggested that we write a book together, drawing on our different strengths. That was in early 2019. I suggested we write the book as an introduction to Davanloo, which we quickly agreed on. I have mainly been concerned with the first volume of the book, which is basically an attempt at a coherent presentation of Davanloo’s theory and methodology. The second volume consists of John’s cases, for which we have written commentaries. For me personally, writing the book has been a way of integrating my understanding of John’s work through a very close reading of Davanloo.

Would you like to share some of the key findings you have made from reading Davanloo in the way you have?
It is difficult to point to individual findings. For me, returning to Davanloo has required a fundamental restructuring of what I thought I knew about ISTDP. What I have been most interested in beyond Davanloo’s conceptual apparatus has been his way of thinking about and orienting himself in his clinical work. I have tried to decode the logic of his clinical thinking by examining the contrasts between his style and later versions of ISTDP. In doing so, I may be placing too much emphasis on the differences between Davanloo and other teachers, rather than the similarities.

Having said that, I do think there is a qualitative difference between the way most of us understand ISTDP today and the way I think Davanloo understood his craft. We all use the same words as Davanloo, but the music is different, and I don’t think that’s just because Davanloo had/has a deeper clinical intuition than most of the rest of us.

One area where I think this is evident is that many people today seem to understand ISTDP as an emotion-focused or experiential therapy. For example, the Swedish ISTDP group on Facebook has a banner that says “the deeper you feel, the more you heal”. This may seem innocuous, but in practice it means that many ISTDP therapists are most interested in “getting to the feelings”, as if experiencing feelings is, in and of itself, important or relevant.

This perspective has its strengths, of course, just as other forms of therapy have their strengths, but I think it is a perspective that is qualitatively different from Davanloo’s – at least the perspective he held until the late 1990s. The emotions he is (or was) interested in are specifically those associated with his work on the resistance, and they are not an end in themselves – they are a means of gaining a deeper understanding of and working through the patient’s unconscious. In this way, Davanloo uses resistance in a different way than most ISTDP therapists do today, which has implications for what the work looks like in practice.

You almost say that this is talking about a new form of therapy developed post Davanloo. Can you go into more detail about what is so different, perhaps with a clinical example? How is Davanloo/Rathauser-ISTDP different from Frederickson/Abbass-ISTDP? 
I do think it’s worth considering if it’s the same form of therapy! One specific clinical difference is that many people today have learned to “press through” resistance, choosing what might be called the “path of least resistance”, whereas Davanloo follows the “path of greatest resistance”. But I think the biggest difference is in the deeper conception of the work itself – not in individual technical interventions.

If you change the spirit of a method, is it still the same? It’s hard to give a clinical example, but perhaps we can compare it to yoga. If you use the different postures for the purpose of gymnastics or strength training, are they still “the same” as when used for the purpose of spiritual practice? If you understand ISTDP as a form of exposure to emotional intimacy, where the therapeutic potential lies in facilitating the breakthrough of emotions or corrective emotional experiences with the therapist, as many do, it easily overshadows the part of the work that is about creating insight into the unconscious. We could say that one does not exclude the other, but in practice I still think that many people use the method as if exposure to their own feelings were an end in itself. 

There’s a lot of good in that – but I think it’s important to be conscious of where this leads the therapy model as a whole.

You have previously written a book on Freud’s concept of self and taken some interest in philosophy – things that fit well into the psychoanalytic literary tradition. Should we who do ISTDP be more interested in reading original classical texts? Or is it a positive thing that the focus of the ISTDP community is more on craft and watching video recordings?
Both yes and no – I’m not sure that the psychoanalytic literature is relevant to our technique, just as you don’t learn to run a hundred-meter race from a marathon runner. We don’t use the transference neurosis, so it’s hard to compare the methods other than in principle. If there is to be an exchange, I think there is something beautiful, serious and generous about our approach to ISTDP training that I think the psychoanalytic community could benefit from.

One area where I think it would be fruitful to include more psychoanalytic theory is in understanding the psychic levels which run deeper than manifest emotional life. The psychoanalytic tradition has a language for the drives and intersubjective dynamics that give rise to manifest emotions which we do not have at all in the ISTDP community. Incorporating this will have an impact on how we understand the therapeutic process as a whole. I think one of the next things that will be needed in the ISTDP community is for more people to engage in the conceptualization of phase 6/7 of the central dynamic sequence – i.e. working through – which unfortunately we do not have a coherent understanding of at the moment. This phase is closely related to the way in which we view the very purpose of the therapeutic process, as well as the therapeutic mechanisms behind what we are doing. Here I think it is necessary to return to the psychoanalytic tradition for help and to broaden our perspectives.

What do you see as the major challenges for the ISTDP community in the coming years?
I think there are many who started learning ISTDP around the same time when Co-Creating Change came out, who have spent a lot of time on technique, and who are now at a point in their development as therapists where they need something to help them gain a deeper understanding of the therapeutic process itself. I think we need literature and training that focuses on the wider processes so that we can begin to use technique in a more flexible way.

In addition to this, I personally have two things that I would like to see in the near future. First, that someone would develop a phenomenology of ISTDP – a description of the structures of the patient’s and therapist’s inner experiences of the process. Second, that someone wrote in more detail about the therapist’s use of defenses in the process and what they usually look like. Unfortunately, I think that as a community we tend to place more emphasis on the patient’s defenses than on our own, and I think that many of the technical pitfalls of the method, given the recent debate about its harmful effects, could be remedied by focusing more on our own neurotic use of the technique.

What would such a phenomenology describe and contain? Care to speculate?
How does it feel when the therapy process tilts to the transference? How is it experienced when the unconscious therapeutic alliance is high versus when it is low? How is it experienced when the conscious therapeutic alliance is firmly established versus when it is not? How are increases in complex transference feelings experienced before they break through? How is the shift from before to after instant repression experienced? What is the experience of having a projection deactivated? How does it feel to have one’s central resistance properly challenged, and how does it feel when the therapist just hammers away without having made clear what the purpose of it is?

I think this type of descriptions would make it easier, especially for new therapists who have not yet developed their own experience with countertransference, to understand the patient. To be able to fine tune their approach based on the experience expressed by the patient, in addition to using the more crude objective signs such as sighs.

What are you struggling to learn as an ISTDP therapist right now?
I’m mostly working on stabilizing my empathic listening skills. One side of this is that I am trying to find a way to stop using the ISTDP therapist role as a defense against emotional closeness. Another is that I am trying to learn how to have a grip on the method that is neither too tight nor too loose.

This is something that I and many of the readers will recognize – that we use the ISTDP therapist role as a defense. Do you think ISTDP is particularly vulnerable to this kind of problem, given the focus we place on the technical aspects of the work?
Yes, I think that as ISTDP therapists we are vulnerable in at least two areas. One is the high emotional intensity of the contact with the patient that is implicit in the method. The second one is that we have very clear and high quality role models to rely on from the very beginning of our work, both in terms of technical instructions and the work of specific teachers. In this way, we have very big shoes to fill, and most of us who are interested in ISTDP are very ambitious for our own sake and for the sake of our patients.

If we think about it, it’s almost a traumatic situation to put yourself in, especially as a newly trained psychologist. When we sit there and have to navigate a high level of emotional intensity that we don’t fully understand, a very high technical level that we don’t fully master, but that we have to convince ourselves that we have mastered. And which we believe we must convince the patient and our colleagues that we have mastered – then the stage is set for us to have a therapist neurosis, where our therapist personality does not facilitate our personal development, but stands in the way of it because it does not reflect us. 

ISTDP assumes that we can go all the way from inquiry to unlocking. We need to have control of the system as a whole before it really works, and so learning the method becomes like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where the motive is constantly changing. In this way, it makes sense that perhaps more than therapists from other therapy disciplines, we acquire a kind of premature therapist identity as part of our development.

If you enjoyed this interview with Mikkel Reher-Langberg, you might be curious about our other interviews: