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 gröva 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 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:

Mikkel Reher-Langberg: “Vi bruger alle de samme ord som Davanloo, men musikken er en anden”

I dette interview med Mikkel Reher-Langberg taler vi om hans kommende bog om Davanloo og ISTDP og meget mere. Mikkel er psykolog og formand for Dansk selskab for ISTDP. I 2018 udgav han en bog om Freuds begreb om selvet, Faces of the Freudian ‘I’: The Structure of the Ego in Psychoanalysis. Sammen med nogle kolleger har han i nogle år drevet den private klinik Emotion center i København.

Svensk version av texten. Engelsk version.

Hvad optager dig lige nu?
Rent professionelt arbejder jeg, som du ved, fuld tid i en privat ISTDP-klinik i København, og er fortsat meget optaget af at lære at arbejde med metoden. Ved siden af det, er jeg ved at skrive den bog vi skal tale om her. Ud over det, har jeg de sidste par år været optaget af meditation, som jeg håber at kunne dedikere mig mere til, når bogen er færdig.

Porträtt Mikkel Reher-Langberg
Mikkel Reher-Langberg

Du er ved at afslutte arbejdet på en bog i to bind om ISTDP. Da jeg hørte dig tale om bogen, fik jeg det indtryk, at du ønsker at bidrage til en slags “tilbage til rødderne”-proces: tilbage til Davanloos fundament. Hvad er baggrunden for bogen?
Baggrunden for bogen er, for mit vedkommende, at jeg de sidste år har været i træning hos John Rathauser, som arbejder i en stil, der ligger meget tæt op ad Davanloos arbejde omkring 90’erne. Jeg så Johns arbejde på IEDTA-kongressen i Amsterdam i 2016, og var fuldstændigt solgt til hans stil. Oprindeligt har jeg lært ISTDP efter Fredericksons og Abbass’ formater, og siden jeg begyndte at arbejde med John har jeg arbejdet på at forstå, hvad det særlige ved Johns tilgang var. Med tiden blev Johns og mit samarbejde tættere og mere venskabeligt, og jeg tror, John kunne se, at jeg ofte kunne forstå og sætte ord på hans arbejde på måder, han ikke selv kunne, selv om hans kliniske intuition er meget stærkere end min egen.

John Rathauser

På et tidspunkt foreslog John, at vi skulle skrive en bog sammen, og gøre brug af vores forskellige styrker – det var tilbage i begyndelsen af 2019. Jeg foreslog at vi skulle skrive den som en introduktion til Davanloo, hvilket vi hurtigt blev enige om. Jeg har primært beskæftiget mig med bogens første bind, som er et forsøg på at fremlægge en sammenhængende præsentation af Davanloos teori og metode. Andet bind består af Johns cases, som vi har skrevet kommentarer til. Kort sagt har det at skrive bogen altså for mig personligt været en måde at integrere min forståelse af Johns arbejde, gennem en meget tæt læsning af Davanloo.

Vil du dele nogle af de vigtigste konklusioner, du har gjort, mens du har læst Davanloo på den måde, du har gjort det i de sidste par år?
Det er svært at sætte finger på enkelte fund – for mig har det at vende tilbage til Davanloo krævet en grundlæggende omstrukturering af, hvad jeg troede, jeg vidste om ISTDP. Det jeg har været mest optaget af, ud over Davanloos begrebsapparat, har været Davanloos måde at orientere sig i det kliniske arbejde, og at forsøge at se det særlige i hans arbejde i kontrast til nyere versioner af ISTDP. På den måde kan jeg komme til at lægge for meget vægt på forskellene mellem Davanloo og andre lærere, frem for lighederne.

Når det er sagt, så oplever jeg, der er en kvalitativ forskel på den måde, de fleste af os forstår ISTDP i dag, og den måde jeg synes, Davanloo orienterer sig i arbejdet. Vi bruger allesammen de samme ord som Davanloo, men musikken er anderledes, og jeg tror ikke kun det handler om at Davanloo havde/har en dybere klinisk intuition end de fleste af os har. Et område, hvor jeg synes, det viser sig, er at mange i dag lader til at forstå ISTDP som en følelsesfokuseret eller oplevelsesorienteret terapiform. Jeres svenske ISTDP-gruppe på facebook har f.eks. et banner med teksten “the deeper you feel, the more you heal”. Det kan virke uskyldigt, men i praksis betyder det, at mange ISTDP-terapeuter mest af alt interesserer sig for at “komme ind til følelserne”, som om det at føle følelser i sig selv var vigtigt eller relevant.

Den orientering har sine styrker, ligesom andre terapiformer også har sine styrker, men jeg synes, den er kvalitativt forskellig fra ånden i Davanloos arbejde – i hvert fald indtil slutningen af 90’erne. De følelser, han interesserer sig for, er specifikt dem, der knytter sig til arbejdet med modstanden, og de er ikke et mål i sig selv – de er et middel til at få en dybere forståelse for og gennemarbejde patientens ubevidste. På den måde bruger Davanloo også modstanden på en anden måde, end de fleste ISTDP-terapeuter gør det i dag, og det har konsekvenser for, hvordan arbejdet ser ud i praksis.

Du siger, at det næsten er som at tale om en ny form for terapi, der er udviklet “post Davanloo”. Kan du gå mere i detaljer om, hvad der er så anderledes, måske med et klinisk eksempel? Hvordan adskiller Davanloo/Rathauser-ISTDP sig fra Frederickson/Abbass-ISTDP?
Jeg synes i hvert fald, det er en overvejelse værd, om det er den samme terapiform! En konkret klinisk forskel er at mange i dag har lært at “presse igennem” modstanden, og tage hvad man kan kalde “the path of least resistance”, mens Davanloo følger “the path of maximum resistance”. Men egentlig synes jeg, den største forskel ligger mere i forståelsen af terapien – ikke i de tekniske interventioner. Hvis man ændrer ånden i en metode, er det så stadig den samme? Det er svært at give et klinisk eksempel på, men vi kan måske sammenligne det med yoga. Hvis man bruger de forskellige positioner som gymnastik eller styrketræning, er det så stadig “det samme” som yoga brugt som spirituel praksis?

Hvis man forstår ISTDP som en form for eksponering for følelsesmæssig nærhed, hvor det terapeutiske potentiale består i at facilitere gennembrud af følelser, eller korrektive emotionelle oplevelser med terapeuten, som mange gør, så overskygger det nemt den del af arbejdet, der handler om at skabe indsigt i det ubevidste. Vi kan sige, at det ene ikke udelukker det andet, men i praksis synes jeg alligevel, mange bruger metoden, som om eksponering for egne følelser udgjorde et mål i sig selv.

Det er der meget godt i – men jeg synes, det er vigtigt at være bevidst om, hvor det bringer terapiformen som helhed hen.

Du har tidligere skrevet en bog om Freuds selvbegreb og har interesseret dig lidt for filosofi – ting, der passer godt ind i den psykoanalytiske litterære tradition. Bør vi, der arbejder med ISTDP, være mere interesserede i at læse klassiske originaltekster? Eller er det en positiv ting, at ISTDP-fællesskabet fokuserer mere på håndværket og på at se videooptagelser?
Både ja og nej – jeg er ikke sikker på, hvordan den psykoanalytiske litteratur er relevant for vores metode, ligesom man ikke lærer 100-meter af en maratonløber. Vi bruger ikke overføringsneurosen, så det er svært at sammenligne metoderne andet end rent principielt. Hvis der skal være en udveksling synes jeg, der er noget smukt, seriøst og generøst i den måde vi i ISTDP-miljøet træner metode på, som det psykoanalytiske miljø måske kunne have gavn af.

Men et område, hvor jeg synes, det ville være oplagt at inddrage psykoanalytisk teori, er i forståelsen af de psykiske niveauer, der er dybere end følelseslivet. Den psykoanalytiske tradition har et sprog for de drifter og intersubjektive dynamikker, de manifeste følelser udspringer af, som vi slet ikke har i ISTDP-miljøet. At inkorporere dét vil være relevant for måden, vi forstår den terapeutiske proces som helhed. Jeg tror, noget af det næste, der kommer til at være nødvendigt i ISTDP-miljøet er, at flere beskæftiger sig med at begrebsliggøre fase 6-7 i den centrale dynamiske sekvens, som vi desværre ikke har en sammenhængende forståelse for på nuværende tidspunkt, men som hænger nært sammen med måden, vi anskuer selve meningen med og forandringsmekanismerne i den terapeutiske proces. Dér tror jeg, det kommer til at være nødvendigt at vende tilbage til den psykoanalytiske tradition efter hjælp.

Hvad ser du som de største udfordringer for ISTDP-fællesskabet i de kommende år?
Jeg tror, der er mange, der begyndte at lære ISTDP omkring det tidspunkt hvor Co-Creating Change udkom, som har brugt meget tid på teknik, og nu er nået til et punkt i deres udvikling som terapeuter, hvor de har brug noget, der kan hjælpe dem med at udvikle en dybere forståelse for selve den terapeutiske proces. Jeg synes, vi mangler litteratur og undervisning der fokuserer på de store bevægelser og meninger med arbejdet, så vi kan begynde at bruge teknikken mere smidigt.

Ud over det, har jeg personligt to ting, jeg gerne så i den nærmeste fremtid. For det første, at nogen ville udvikle en fænomenologi for metoden – en beskrivelse af strukturerne i patientens og terapeutens indre oplevelser af processen. For det andet, at nogen skrev mere udførligt om terapeutens brug af forsvar i processen, og hvordan de typisk ser ud. Jeg synes desværre, vi som miljø kan have en tendens til at tilskrive patientens forsvar større betydning for processen end vores egne, og jeg tror at mange af de tekniske faldgruber metoden har, jf. den debat der på det seneste har været omkring dens skadevirkninger, kunne afhjælpes ved, at vi fokuserede mere på vores egne neurotiske anvendelser af teknikken.

Hvad ville en sådan fænomenologi beskrive og indeholde? Har du lyst til at spekulere?
Hvordan opleves det når processen tilter over i overføringen? Hvordan opleves det når UTA er høj versus når den er lav? Hvordan opleves det når CTA er etableret versus når den ikke er? Hvordan opleves rise i CTF i overføringen, før de bryder igennem? Hvordan opleves skiftet fra før til efter instant repression? Hvordan føles det at få deaktiveret en projektion? Hvordan skal det føles at få sin major resistance udfordret korrekt, og hvordan føles det når terapeuten bare hamrer løs uden at have gjort det klart hvad meningen med det er? Jeg tror, det kunne være nemmere, særligt for nye terapeuter der endnu ikke har udviklet sin egen erfaring i modoverføringen, at finjustere vores metode efter den oplevelse, patienten giver udtryk for, som supplement til de grove objektive tegn som f.eks. suk.

Hvad kæmper du for at lære som ISTDP-terapeut lige nu?
Jeg arbejder mest med at stabilisere min indføling. En side af det er, at jeg er ved at finde ud af at aflære de måder, jeg bruger ISTDP-terapeut-rollen som et forsvar mod følelsesmæssig nærhed, og at lære at have et greb om metoden, der hverken er for fast eller for løst.

Det er noget, som jeg og mange af læserne vil genkende – at vi bruger ISTDP-rollen som et forsvar. Tror du, at ISTDP er særligt sårbar over for den slags problemer, da vi lægger vægt på teknisk håndværk?
Ja, jeg tror, vi som ISTDP-terapeuter er udsatte på i hvert fald to områder. Det ene er den høje følelsesmæssige intensitet i kontakten med patienten, der ligger til metoden. Det andet handler om, at vi har meget klare forbilleder af meget høj kvalitet at forholde os til lige fra starten af vores arbejde, både i form af tekniske anvisninger og konkrete læreres arbejde. Vi har på den måde meget store sko at fylde ud, og de fleste af os, der interesserer os for ISTDP er meget ambitiøse på vores egne og vores patienters vegne. Hvis vi tænker over det, så er det nærmest en traumatisk situation at sætte sig selv i, især som nyuddannet psykolog. Når vi sidder dér og skal navigere i en høj grad af følelsesmæssig intensitet, som vi ikke helt forstår, på et meget højt teknisk niveau, som vi ikke helt mestrer, men skal overbevise os selv om at vi mestrer, og tror vi skal overbevise patienten og vores kolleger om at vi mestrer, så er grunden ligesom lagt for at få sig en terapeut-neurose, hvor vores terapeut-personlighed ikke faciliterer vores personlige udvikling i arbejdet, men står i vejen for den, fordi den ikke afspejler os. Metoden kræver, at vi kan gå hele vejen fra inquiry til unlocking. Vi skal have styr på hele systemet, før det rigtig virker, og på den måde bliver det at lære metoden som at lægge et puslespil, hvor motivet hele tiden ændrer sig. På den måde er det oplagt, at vi måske mere end terapeuter fra andre retninger, andre tilegner os en form for præmatur terapeut-identitet som en bærende søjle for vores udvikling.


Hvis du nød dette interview med Mikkel Reher-Langberg, vil du måske også være interesseret i vores andre interviews:

Är challenge nödvändigt? Ny studie

I dagarna har Fateh Rahmani med kollegor vid Kurdiska Universitetet i Iran publicerat ytterligare en RCT-studie på ISTDP för socialt ångestsyndrom, där de också undersökt om challenge är ett nödvändigt element i ISTDP. Här sammanfattar vi några av slutsatserna från studien.

Fateh Rahmani har publicerat ny studie på ISTDP för social ångest
Fateh Rahmani

Challenge

I arbetet med personer som lider av känslomässig överkontroll – eller högt motstånd som Davanloo kallar det – kännetecknas ISTDP av mer konfrontativa interventioner. Högt motstånd åsyftar alltså personer som har god tillgång till intellektualiserande och rationaliserande försvar, men som är fast i dessa på ett mycket oflexibelt sätt. Detta kan leda till upplevelsen av att vara känslomässigt avstängd, distanserad och att man är som en observatör i sitt eget liv. När Davanloo utvecklade ISTDP var det bland annat för att hitta en sätt att hjälpa denna grupp av patienter att bli kvitt sitt motstånd, i en tid när de av många betraktades som omöjliga att hjälpa.

Interventioner av gradvis ökande känslomässig intensitet - från småprat till challenge
Schematisk illustration av interventioner med gradvis ökande känslomässig intensitet

Efter en första stund av arbete med att kartlägga försvaren, deras funktion och de negativa konsekvenserna av dem, så menade Davanloo att terapeuten bör övergå till att använda sig av challenge. Det här är förmodligen ett av Davanloos mest originella bidrag till psykoterapin. Från att terapeuten till en början uppmuntrar patienten att göra positiva saker (känna känslor, gå i riktning mot sina mål, undersöka sig själv och så vidare) så skiftar terapeuten här fokus till att uppmuntra patienten att sluta göra något som är negativt för dem. Så här kan en fas av challenge se ut, något förenklat:

Terapeuten: Nu har vi pratat en stund om hur du går upp i dina tankar istället för att känna efter (Intervention: Prata om försvaret: intellektualisering).

Patienten: Mm (suckar).

T: Att du går upp i tankarna är hur du undviker att vara i kontakt med vad du känner. Och undviker att vara i kontakt med mig. (Intervention: Prata om funktionen av försvaret)

P: Mm (suckar).

T: Och så länge du gör så, går upp i tankarna, kommer vi ju inte att kunna hjälpa dig i den här terapin. Eller vad tror du? (Intervention: Prata om de negativa konsekvenserna av att göra försvar)

P: Nej… jag är bara så fast i att tänka. (suckar)

T: Så vad kan vi göra åt att du fortsätter gå upp i tankarna istället för att känna efter? (Intervention: Uppmuntran att vända sig mot försvaret)

P: (suckar)

T: Vad känner du just nu om du inte går upp i dina tankar? (Intervention: Challenge)

P: Jag vet inte… (suckar)

T: Igen går du upp i tankarna. Märker du det? Så om du inte tänker efter, vad är det för känslor som dyker upp just nu? (Intervention: Challenge)

P: (suckar)

Att patienten suckar är här ett tecken på att interventionerna faller väl ut och att patienten både tolererar och kanske till och med behöver challenge för att närma sig känslor. Men challenge är ett tveeggat svärd. På grund av den konfrontativa aspekten så är interventionen något som många terapeuter har svårt att bemästra.

Om man använder sig av challenge innan patienten tydligt har sett sitt försvar, funktionen av det och priset av det, så riskerar man att skada alliansen. Patienten kan uppleva det som att samarbetet brister och att terapeuten är kritisk. Detta kallas för prematur challenge, eller “challenge at low rise”.

Och om man använder sig av challenge i arbetet med sköra patienter så tenderar detta att mobilisera så mycket känslor på en gång att patienten går långt över sin ångesttröskel och blir överväldigad. Snarare än att känslor långsamt får mobiliseras och försiktigt närma sig tröskeln så leder challenge alltså till väldigt tvära kast, med risk för alliansbrott och omfattande regressiva processer.

Den aktuella studien

I den föreliggande studien ville Rahmani med kollegor undersöka dels om ISTDP är effektivt vid socialt ångestsyndrom, och dels om challenge verkligen är en nödvändig intervention för en effektiv ISTDP-behandling. De randomiserade 42 deltagare med social ångest till antingen väntelista, ISTDP eller ISTDP utan challenge (“Interpretation-based ISTDP”, IB-ISTDP). Det var samma terapeuter som bedrev de båda behandlingarna, och de gick en kort utbildning för försäkra sig om att de på ett kompetent sätt skulle kunna arbeta utan challenge. Behandlingarna var korta, åtta sessioner. Det här upplägget påminner om den andra RCT som Rahmani med kollegor publicerade tidigare i år, där de jämförde ISTDP med känslofokus och ISTDP med försvarsfokus. Det påminner även om en välkänd studie av interpersonell terapi, “Is exposure necessary?“, där två olika traumabehandlingar – en med och en utan exponering – jämförts med varandra.

Utfallet visade att de båda behandlingsgrupperna hade stora effekter jämfört med väntelista, både efter behandling och vid sexmånadersuppföljning. Författarna själva rapporterar inte antalet patienter som gått i remission, men medelvärdet på självskattningsskalan LSAS-SR minskade med mer än 50% för båda behandlingsgrupperna och slutade under klinisk cut-off på LSAS-SR (LSAS-SR < 30 helskalepoäng). Detta indikerar en väldigt god behandlingseffekt.

Är challenge nödvändigt?

Så är det nödvändigt att använda challenge för att uppnå goda resultat inom ramarna för en ISTDP-behandling? Korta svaret: nej. Den här studien fann inget stöd för att challenge gav någon tilläggseffekt utöver de andra teknikerna som ingår i ISTDP (pressure, clarification, recap). Författarna själva tolkar detta resultat som att challenge antagligen inte behövs eftersom känslor ändå aktiveras tillräckligt mycket.

“It may be that a more gradual mobilization without prominent use of challenge, results in adequate activation of these dynamic forces in enough cases to not reveal significant differences in outcomes between groups.” (Rahmani et al., 2020).

En förklaring till detta är att många personer med socialt ångestsyndrom inte lider av överkontroll/högt motstånd utan snarare är drabbade av känslomässig underkontroll – vad vi inom ISTDP kallar för repression och skörhet. Med dessa patienter är challenge oftast kontraindicerat, eftersom det sätter för mycket press på patienten. Om vi använder challenge med en patient som är skör så kommer detta sannolikt leda till att ångesten blir för hög eller att olika primitiva försvar, såsom splitting och projektion, drar igång. ISTDP för sköra patienter kännetecknas av ett mer försiktigt tillvägagångssätt som betonar psykoedukation, kognitiva sammanfattningar och andra övningar i att intellektualisera. Antagligen var det precis detta de flesta av deltagarna i studien behövde.

Ett mer finmaskigt svar på frågan om challenge är nödvändigt skulle alltså behöva selektera en grupp patienter med högt motstånd och randomisera dem till ISTDP med eller utan challenge.

Ytterligare en möjlig förklaring till att ISTDP utan challenge klarar sig så bra är dodo bird-effekten. När två bona fide-behandlingar jämförs hittar man generellt sett inga skillnader i effekt.

Rahmani, F., Abbass, A., Hemmati, A., Ghaffari, N., Mirghaed, S.R., (2020) Challenging the role of challenge in intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jclp.22993


Här är våra senaste artiklar om forskning på ISTDP:

Allan Abbass: “At first doing ISTDP felt unnatural”

At the end of the summer, on the 26-28th of August, Allan Abbass invites you to his 9th Swedish ISTDP Immersion course. We did an interview with him about the ISTDP trial therapy, and his development as a therapist.

Allan at Stockholm Immersion 2019
Allan Abbass at the 8th Swedish Immersion in late summer 2019

How does it feel to do yet another Immersion in Sweden? 
I am very much looking forward to providing another ISTDP immersion to all of the Swedish colleagues and in collaboration with the Swedish ISTDP trainers.

The theme of this year’s Immersion is the initial session, the trial therapy. How come you put so much emphasis on this part of the treatment? 
The trial therapy is in itself a treatment but also is the basis on which further treatment sessions are built. This first session is the most important part of the treatment. When this process goes well and helps the therapist to understand the patient, and the patient to understand the process, it strongly predicts a good treatment outcome.

How do you prepare for a trial therapy? Do you plan ahead in any way on what you want to aim for? 
The main preparation for the trial therapy is being knowledgeable on ISTDP psychodiagnosis and treatment processes for different groups of patients. This requires the full ISTDP training including immersions, video review of cases and so on.

As for a specific case, as a general principle I do not want to have too much knowledge about the patient ahead of time. I want to develop my own understanding of the patient and their problems.

The way I currently work is that people are referred and I look at the referral information in case there are some reasons I need more information prior to a trial therapy. Then the patient goes on a long waitlist so that by the time I see the person I don’t recall much of those details I looked at before. This way it is a fresh look at the patient and his problems

How has your understanding of the trial therapy evolved over the years? What are some of the key things you have learned? 
One of the key things that I’ve come to learn is the issue of how much conscious alliance is required versus how much the process relies on mobilizing the unconscious therapeutic alliance. This balance is different depending on the patient category. For moderate resistant patients, conscious therapeutic alliance is already present so there is no need to spend time building this. For much more complicated patients (eg. fragile patients) more time is required to build a conscious alliance coupled with some focus on unconscious processes and signaling to the patient that the unconscious will be known at some point. It is very important toward developing hope that the more disturbed patients know that their unconscious will eventually become known.

The other issue is how important psychodiagnosis is. In the early years of my work I was often not clear about the psychodiagnosis and that lead to dropouts and misalliances as well as limited treatment effects in some of those cases. With improved psychodiagnostic skills, dropouts and misalliance are less frequent.

What did Davanloo have to say about your trial therapies, if anything?
When I was in supervision with Davanloo we typically would study the trial therapy sessions. Of course that feedback varied greatly from patient to patient. Full range of feedback varied from him overly challenging me about things I had done or had not done, all the way up to saying that the treatment trial was great teaching material. It was great to get his feedback and to make adjustments in those cases where I was missing the understanding of the patient’s problems or was not having properly timed interventions.

You’ve said that doing block therapy requires a lot of knowledge about how to proceed through the different stages of therapy, and that it might not be suitable for beginning therapists. In what way does this apply to trial therapy? Should the structure and goals of the trial therapy be different for different levels of trainee development? 
One thing that varies with therapist experience is how much time it takes for trial therapy. When I started this work in 1990, I would leave the whole afternoon open for a trial therapy starting at 13.00 and sometimes would go into the early evening. When I was in training with Davanloo at McGill University in Montreal, the trial therapies would be all day long on the Monday from 08.30-17.00. He would come out and teach in between segments. Suffice it to say these were not quick trial therapies. As part of my work there, it was my job to analyze videos and produce reports as part of the research. It was quite helpful to take the time to do that.

Over time my trial therapies have shortened substantially. Now I just leave two hours, and if I need another segment of two hours I will go ahead and plan that.

For the new therapist, I do recommend leaving enough time for you to establish a conscious therapeutic alliance, gather history, do the psychodiagnosis, and see if it is possible to mobilize the unconscious therapeutic alliance in the trial. You also need time to recap, review the process, close it up and plan forward.

What do you think other treatment models could adapt from the concept of the trial therapy?
There’s no question that the information from the metapsychology of ISTDP is useful in any psychological assessment. Capacity to recognize unconscious emotional processes as well as unconscious anxiety and unconscious behavioral defenses can aid any psychotherapist doing assessment or treatment regardless of the model.

This is simply because attachment occurs in every psychotherapy model and every assessment interview. When attachment related feelings are activated, anxiety and defenses occur within the unconscious of the patient and have quite an effect on the interactional process. At the same time attachment-related feelings can activate in the psychologist and have a dramatic effect on the interactional process from this perspective.

The ISTDP framework allows the therapist to be conscious of what he is doing for his sake and the sake of the patient.

Throughout the years you’ve shown some great trial therapies at your Immersions in Stockholm. I assume these are some of your best work. How does an average or below average trial play out for you?
There are a range of responses to the trial therapy. On average there are symptom reductions and interpersonal gains based on some hundreds of trial therapies we have studied. When the trial is less effective or not effective, there are a combination of causes.

These include misreading of the front of the system, inadequate work on defenses, inadequate anxiety reduction which make the process uncomfortable for the patients. In these cases, the patient is too anxious or the process is too flat. Patient factors include heavily syntonic defense systems, conscious obstacles to engagement that the person does not share with therapist and medical factors which interrupt the process. The likelihood of these difficulties reduces after doing 100 or more trial therapies or after 2000 hours of therapy and case reviews.

Do you find you have specific patterns where you consistently find yourself being less effective during the trial therapy? Or did you have such patterns before?
In the early work I was doing, there were certain patient styles, including those with significant repression who would disappear from the treatment process and slip into a passive regressive position. With those individuals early in my training I was tending to withdraw rather than to move in and clarify and challenge these defenses. To overcome this pattern it was important for me to self-review videos and try to determine the emotions that were being triggered in me during these processes. Such video self-review is a great tool to help us access our own emotional processes in the patient interactions.

What are you currently working on improving as a therapist right now?
The area I am currently working on is that with those patients who have severe personality dysfunction including dissociative identity and psychotic disorders. There are multiple moving challenges with these patient populations.

How are you proceeding on improving your work with this patient group?
I’m using the same process I’ve used with each other patient category. Namely the review of videos, reading about these cases, feedback from the patients, trial and evaluation of different interventions at different points in time and on some occasions peer input. I’m convinced that there are some severely ill patient populations that none of us should be working in isolation with. We should all have an opportunity to review cases with someone on an as needed basis.

We’ve previously talked about the different phases in your development as a therapist. There was an early phase in the nineties, a therapist style which you’ve described as “applying a technique”, and over the years a transition to a second phase, which you’ve described as “living the technique”. Can you say something more about the development of your therapeutic style?
When I first started to learn this method, I considered myself to be a warm person who liked people and liked to talk to people and learn about them. As a beginning ISTDP therapist, I had to incorporate certain observation skills and procedural skills on top of my personality. At first it felt unnatural in some ways and felt less “warm”. The process felt mechanical. I think I lost some therapeutic efficacy in some ways in the early stages.

This mostly affected the patients who were more resistant or fragile. I found that this did not affect working with more lower resistance patients from the beginning because I was more comfortable and natural in those settings and did not need to use challenge as a therapeutic technique. Working with those low resistance patients mobilized less emotions and anxiety and defense in me as well. As my own underlying feelings started to be mobilized and could be experienced, it was vastly easier to sit and experience the feelings the patient had without resorting to mechanical techniques or other defenses.

As I got comfortable with more resistant patients and fragile patients, it became more and more natural to engage the person with my natural self. In the interviews I will show in the Immersion you will see two older ones and four newer ones that will give you an idea of these changes over time.

Really, some of the keys to becoming a successful therapist include being comfortable, having access to our own feelings and coupled with this, having technical knowledge of timing of interventions.

Anything else you’d like to add ahead of the event? 
I am looking forward to working with you. It looks like this immersion will be held online. That being the case you’ll have the privacy of your own house, as long as your kids and pets aren’t interrupting you too much, to have a personal experience while studying this trial therapy process. All the best to you in your work.


The 9th Swedish Immersion is held online at the end of the summer, 26-28th of August.

If you enjoyed this Allan Abbass interview, you might be interested in our other interviews. For more thoughts about ISTDP training, you can check out the interviews with Patricia Coughlin and Jon Frederickson. We also did a short piece with Allan last fall, which you can find here. You can find all of our english content by following this link. Below you’ll find our latest interviews:

Patricia Coughlin: “ISTDP is a psychoanalytic method”

Here’s an interview with Patricia Coughlin. In September this year, the Swedish society for ISTDP will have the great pleasure to welcome Patricia to Malmö – if all goes according to plan. We sat down with her to talk about learning ISTDP, about sexual conflict, about psychoanalysis and more.

Patricia Coughlin Malmö
Patricia Coughlin

How do you feel about coming back to Sweden to present? 
I am delighted to return to Sweden and welcome the opportunity!

How did you end up becoming a therapist and later on specializing in ISTDP?
I knew from an early age that I was meant to be a psychologist. I pursued this goal with great focus and determination, obtaining my PhD at the age of 25. I was always interested in depth – in understanding the patient (and myself) in a profound way. I was most interested in what was happening beneath the surface, in the unconscious. All of my early education and training was in psychoanalytic/psychodynamic theory and practice. Like Davanloo, I became frustrated and guilty about erratic results with interpretive methods. Many patients came to understand their difficulties, but only some transferred that learning into change. Meeting Davanloo in 1988 and watching tapes of the Machine Gun Woman, the German Architect, and others, was a life altering experience. I saw the unconscious crack open in the most unmistakable way, when the therapist actively intervened to identify and intensify the patient’s core conflicts. I needed to learn that! 

How did you experience training with Davanloo? 
I had good experiences with Dr. Davanloo. He was always respectful and very helpful. I learned more from him than anyone about how to intervene rapidly and effectively. I was in a core group in Montreal for three years. Most of the time, I was the only woman in the group. Many in the group had been training with Davanloo for decades, yet very few seemed to be able to master the technique. Why was that?

In my own estimation, supervision, without teaching, gets limited results. There was little reference to the theory upon which ISTDP was built. He just assumed we already knew analytic theory. Luckily, I did, so I could employ the techniques in order to gain rapid access to the unconscious. Then, all my former knowledge, skill and training, aided me in helping the patient resolve the unconscious conflicts responsible for his symptoms and suffering.

Davanloo was very impersonal in his interaction with trainees. The lack of focus on the person of the therapist was the other factor that I thought contributed to problems in learning and growing. I have tried to include a good deal of teaching, as well as a focus on dynamic case formulation and personal development of each trainee in my groups, in order to enhance the learning experience. My trainees learn the method and the theory it is based upon, and develop as people, as well as clinicians.

My experiences with Davanloo were good while I was training with him, but he cut me off, as he has everyone who goes off on their own. I haven’t heard from him since I left training, but have heard that he denies knowing me. He has done this with everyone he has ever trained, so I don’t take it personally. At the same time, this way of treating people gives ISTDP a bad name and has undermined the method expanding more widely and rapidly.

What’s your perspective on the relationship between psychoanalysis and ISTDP? 
ISTDP is a psychoanalytic method. In many ways, this technique is similar to Freud’s early work, in which he was quite active and confrontational. Over time he got more passive and pessimistic, not in the least part due to being a Jew who was driven out of his country. For many reasons, he became increasingly pessimistic about human nature all together.

Davanloo felt Freud took a wrong turn when he decided to “bow to the superego’s resistance, which sees our efforts come to nothing”. Instead, he took up resistance as soon as it was apparent, inviting the patient to face and experience the feelings he has been avoiding, in order to heal. He also put pressure on the patient to decide whether to continue hiding and avoiding painful realities and feelings or to face them courageously in order to heal. By identifying and intensifying inner conflict and ambivalence, he was able to unlock the unconscious. 

His methods are all used pre-interpretively. It’s for those patients who are locked in by defenses and unavailable for a therapeutic alliance. Once the defenses break down, and the feelings break through into consciousness, dynamic therapy ensues. Many confuse the part with the whole, and the means for the end, but his method is used to open the unconscious. Once the unconscious is open and fluid, working through previously unconscious conflicts, to a new and healthy end is the order of the day. I think this whole mid phase of therapy has been neglected in ISTDP. My colleague Jonathan Entis and I are writing a book about this presently.

Sexuality used to be a central theme in psychotherapy education and writing. This seems to have changed and psychotherapy training nowadays hardly deals with the topic at all. Or that’s at least my impression. Maybe that’s different if you’re trying to become an analyst. Are we past the time when sexuality was a central aspect of psychotherapy? 
In my experience, many patients struggle with conflicts regarding sexual feelings and impulses, as well as those regarding rivalry and competition. The idea that we only have one kind of conflict – guilt over rage toward loved ones – is dangerously narrow. When we develop a set idea about the origin of the patient’s difficulties before meeting and assessing him, we will be prone to confirmation bias. It is essential to keep an open and curious mind and to evaluate the nature, intensity and history of the patient’s problems, in order to ascertain the nature of conflicts responsible for them The neglect of these other conflicts and our narrow focus contributes to poor outcomes. I have seen many patients who suffer from jealousy and rivalry conflicts get no help from other clinicians. It is important that we take all the data into consideration.

So does ISTDP offer unique insights about sexuality and sexual conflict?
The insight about the origins of conflicts regarding sexuality, rivalry and competition are not unique to ISTDP, but confirm psychoanalytic notions of the Oedipal conflict and sibling rivalry. The rage toward the competitor, along with forbidden sexual desires for family members, generates anxiety and defenses that undermine sexual pleasure and performance and can also contribute to a pattern of staying in the position of the loser. Inhibitions about “winning” and “beating” rivals are common and can be traced to Oedipal and sibling rivalry. Understanding these conflicts and the analytic ideas associated with them are important in helping clinicians identify and resolve them, both within themselves, and in their patients.

What are some of the aspects of ISTDP that still are in need of development? 
ISTDP, like many therapeutic models developed over the last 50 years, focuses almost exclusively on conflicts around attachment. The need to attach in a secure fashion to others is only one of two primary drives in operation from birth to death. The other is the innate tendency to be a separate, unique individual. The need for autonomy, self definition, and self determination is just as important as the need for attachment. If we focus exclusively on attachment, we can support the patient’s problem, which is often an excessive reliance on support and validation from others. 

Attending to the patient’s sense of self, so that he can feel solid and secure within himself, is capable of self regulation, self definition, self mastery, and intimacy with self, as well as other, is often neglected. Getting these two drives in balance, such that the more solid one’s self of self and the better able to stand on one’s own two feet, the better able we are to attach in a secure manner. 

The more secure our attachments, the freer we are to separate. Attending to what Blatt called “The Polarities of Experience” are needed to facilitate health and optimal functioning. In contrast, relying excessively on other validation, while being unable to self validate, sets patients up for enhanced anxiety and sub optimal functioning. If we only focus on reactive feelings toward others, and neglect how the patient feels about himself (proud and capable, for example), we keep them at effect, rather than cause. When we take over the process and dictate what the patient should do (face feelings) and must stop doing (rationalizing, avoiding, etc) we reinforce passivity and a tendency to sacrifice self for other. Supporting and encouraging differentiation, as well as attachment, is often required.

In what ways have your way of doing therapy changed over the past five or ten years, and why?
My work is smoother and more integrated. And I am more myself in the process.

What are you struggling to learn as a teacher and therapist right now? 
I am always learning, and hopefully, improving in my ability to teach, supervise and support the development of the person of the therapists. The fact that so many of my current and former trainees have gone on to become real contributors in the field – writing, teaching and presenting at conferences – is a great source of satisfaction and optimism for the future.

Where do you see ISTDP going in the coming five or ten years? 
I have no idea where ISTDP will go from here and look forward to seeing how it all evolves. My greatest concern is that the method is being taught in a highly technical fashion, with little, if any reference to theory or case conceptualization. There are no short cuts and this complex method can’t be learned and practicing by rote. Of course we are all eager to pass on our knowledge, but training and expertise take time. It is a life long journey. It’s important to remember that the best therapists have superior meta-cognitive skills. They have superior working memory, are able to spot patterns as they happen, and tolerate complexity and uncertainty. Containing these polarities – being systematic but flexible, courageous and enthusiastic but humble and open to feedback – is a challenge for us all.

Would you like to say something directly to the Swedish audience ahead of the event? 
I want to wish my Swedish colleagues all the best. These are scary times. Remember to focus on what you can do rather than worrying about things we can’t control. Just three 10 minute periods of meditations on gratitude each day will significantly boost your immune system. I have just returned home from Norway and am incredibly grateful to have arrived safely and in a healthy state. I am extremely grateful that we have the internet and secure sites so we can see our patient’s remotely. I am also grateful for some down time to rest and reflect. We all tend to work a great deal. Slowing down is a good thing. I hope the virus will die down and our plans to get together in late summer will materialize.

Patricia is coming to present in Malmö, Sweden, on the 10th of September, 2020. Make sure to make a reservation now, as seating is limited. Depending on the CoVid-19 situation, the date might be subject to change.


If you liked this Patricia Coughlin interview, you might find our other interviews interesting. For example, we have done interviews with several of Patricia’s former students, such as Kristy Lamb and Jon Frederickson. Here’s a list of our recent interviews:

Jon Frederickson: “Training with Davanloo was startling”

We did an interview with Jon Frederickson ahead of his first ISTDP workshop on Finnish soil at the end of March. In the interview he discusses the relationship between psychoanalysis and ISTDP, as well as his own discovery of ISTDP and other themes.

Jon Frederickson portrait
Jon Frederickson

How do you feel about going to Finland to present for the first time? 
I’m very excited of course to teach a new group of therapists. But, honestly, what has me really excited is to be in the homeland of Sibelius. Such a giant in classical music! If only I had a little more time, I would visit his home in the woods and absorb the mood of the forest of which his music spoke.

For people who don’t know you, how did you end up becoming a therapist and later on specializing in ISTDP? 
I was initially inspired to become a therapist through the writings of Erich Fromm. Such an inspirational writer, a psychoanalyst, a sociologist, an atheistic mystic. How could I not be fascinated by such a brilliant and heartful role model! I became psychoanalytically trained and some years later had a chance to see videotape of ISTDP. It was like seeing psychoanalysis live and active in a way I had never dared to imagine.

In the nineties you had quite a lot of training with Patricia Coughlin, and later on you met Davanloo and trained with him. How did you find training with Patricia and Davanloo? 
Supervision with Patricia revolutionized my work as a therapist, making my therapy far more focused and effective. With Davanloo, it was a bit startling. I was chair of a psychoanalytic psychotherapy training program and yet with Davanloo I was for the first time understanding many concepts on far deeper levels than I ever had before. Sadly, he dismissed psychoanalysis at that point in his career. Yet his training only deepened my appreciation and understanding of its depths.

Speaking of psychoanalysis, what’s your perspective on the relationship between psychoanalysis and ISTDP? 
Freud said that any therapy is psychoanalysis if it operates with a concept of the unconscious and the transference. ISTDP meets those criteria. ISTDP is obviously more active an approach than a classical analysis done on the couch. However, its work is entirely based on the exploration of unconscious feelings, addressing unconscious anxiety, and the careful work with unconscious defenses and resistance in the transference relationship. And in line with Bion’s statement about psychoanalysis, our work is based on faith that the patient will become healed by becoming at one with the emotional truth of this moment. 

In Helsinki you’re doing a workshop on trauma. Does ISTDP offer a unique take on trauma, or is this a standard psychoanalytic perspective?
I don’t know how to answer that because psychoanalysis is such a pluralistic community now that it would be reductionistic to claim that there is “one” way psychoanalysts work with trauma. Unlike some other communities, ISTDP therapists and analysts understand that the effects of trauma depend on multiple factors such as the child’s age when the trauma occurred, nature of the trauma, genetics, temperament, and the parental response to trauma.

We also recognize that dealing with the trauma involves not just the mind but the body. And we also recognize that issues of symbolization and mentalization must be carefully attended to. And we also note whether it was a one-time trauma or a case of cumulative trauma. All these factors lead to a complexity in treatment which any psychoanalytically informed clinician must take into account.

ISTDP is in many ways still a “new form of therapy”, given that so few people have been trained in it. What are some of the aspects of ISTDP that still are in need of development? 
ISTDP, while quite effective in research studies, has yet to develop research specifically into the treatment of narcissistic personality disorder and perversions. Our recent research with drug addicts is showing a surprising amount of effectiveness with patients suffering from psychotic symptoms. So I think we need to do more research into what differentiates the near-psychotic group of patients who respond to work on splitting and projection, and the psychotic level of character structure that does not respond. Given the successes we are having, I am hoping we can build on Marcus’ work on near-psychosis in our future work.

A common reaction to reading about ISTDP or watching a presentation is that the method is confrontational and even violent. Should ISTDP be less confrontational?
ISTDP isn’t violent, defenses are. That’s we try to block and identify defenses which do violence to the patient. Let us not forget that defenses cause the patient’s problems and presenting problems. They are a form of internalized violence. And the most compassionate thing we can do is block unconscious forms of violence that hurt the patient, and to help them see these previously invisible mechanisms so that he they have a chance to do something different.

Likewise, we don’t interrupt the patient. We interrupt the defenses that interrupt the patient. We never interrupt the heart speaking from its depths, we interrupt the defenses that keep the patient from speaking from her heart. Also, the idea of confrontation makes no sense about 99% of the time. After all, if the poor patient can’t see a defense, is not using it intentionally, and is unaware of it, he just needs some compassionate help to see his defenses. Otherwise, how could he do anything different in the moment?

Think of self-attack. It’s a form of violent communication to oneself. A child who grew up with a critic becomes a critic to himself. The nicest thing we can do is interrupt this form of self-cruelty and help the patient look under that defense to see what the feelings are being warded off.

Coming back to you, in what ways have your way of doing therapy changed over the past five or ten years, and why?
Hahaha! Throughout my career, as I look back, I can see that I have increasingly surrendered my resistance to being here, now, with the patient I have. I am increasingly able to accept the patient unconditionally, without needing him to change in any way. This may sound easy or trivial to readers who believe you already do this. And, if you do, good for you! But I find that this is a universal journey we take as therapists as we give up even the tiniest resistances to reality: meaning the patient as he is. My work has become very attuned to the tiniest cues of the unconscious will-to-health. And that shift may be the most important technical shift in my work recently.

What are you struggling to learn as a teacher and therapist right now? 
I’m in the midst of several projects with the aim of developing new forms of training and supervision. The research shows that graduate training does not improve therapist effectiveness. And after graduation, research shows that therapists do not improve. Research also shows that 93% of psychotherapy supervision is ineffective and 35% actually harmful. So in this part of my career I am most interested in researching what helps therapists become more effective. That is why I am focusing on skill building exercises and DVDs. I have a skill building book coming out next year. And I’ve begun a three-year study where we will study learning processes in a training group. That research will be the basis of a book I will write on the teaching and learning of experiential therapy.

You have two new books in the making. Can you tell us something about them?
My next book, Co-Creating Safety: treating the fragile patient, is designed for therapists who want to learn how to treat the most disturbed patients in their caseloads, ranging from patients who just had a psychotic break to patients in the borderline spectrum of character structure. After that, my next book will be, Healing Through Relating, a skill building book with skill building exercises training therapists in the fifty most important skills in developing a therapeutic alliance. I was trained as a professional musician. So I’m trying to develop some “étude” books now for therapists.

Would you like to say something directly to the Finnish audience about the event? 
I look forward very much to showing you a three-hour session which will allow us to learn concepts, see them put into action, and see how a patient begins to recognize the unconscious enactments that have driven her suffering. There is something about seeing a real therapy that is helping the patient moment by moment that is unlike any other kind of learning experience. I look forward to seeing you there!


If you liked this Jon Frederickson interview, you might be interested in our other interviews. Among them, there’s another Jon Frederickson interview from last year. There’s also a recent interview with Kristy Lamb on ISTDP for addictions that might be of interest. Here are the five most recent interviews:

You can find all of our content in english by following this link.