What is integrative therapy? Just what it sounds like – a form of therapy that integrates different things. In this case what is being combined are different forms of psychotherapy, and the various tools that each one can offer to you as the client.
The main idea behind integrative therapy is that you are unique, and what would work perfectly for you is not necessarily what would work for other people. A integrative therapist therefore works to make a program of therapy that suits your personal needs and issues.
Integrative therapy is increasingly the most common type of therapy. Given the wide array of therapies on offer nowadays, most therapists have undertaken several forms of training and found a way to blend them together that produces results for their clients. Or, they have studied at a school that has a program of integrative therapy that unifies different schools of psychotherapeutic thought.
What is the aim of integrative therapy?
The aim of integrative therapy is to help you explore what is causing you problems in life and to create a bespoke program to help you begin to approach life in a more open and productive way.
But it is also about helping you function at your best levels in all areas of your life – mental, emotional, and physical.
Integrative therapy is about integrating yourself, and all of the various parts of your personality and being, into a balanced and effective whole.
The Main Theories of Integrative Therapy
1. There is no one theory that is the magic answer.
Integrative psychotherapy believes that the human psyche can be accessed and understood in different ways.
2. Contradicting theories can work together.
Even if psychological theories appear to contradict each other, they might be helpful to you if they are combined. So an integrative therapist, if they feel two seemingly different approaches could help you, will find a way to use both with you.
3. The client-therapist relationship is itself an important part of therapy.
Your integrative therapist commits to being part of your inner exploration and growth. They work to be supportive and non judgemental, listening with an open and present mind, and seeing you as their equal.
Integrative therapy is not interested in just pulling together approaches to helping you, but also in pulling together the different components that make up your psychological wellbeing. They look at ways to access and unite not just your behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, but perhaps also your physical wellbeing, social skills, and your sense of spirituality.
5. You are a whole being.
Integrative counselling is fairly holistic, taking into account your mental and emotional wellbeing as well as your physical wellbeing.
How integrative therapy works
Integrative therapy draws its theories and tools from the three main schools of psychotherapeutic thought – psychoanalytical (which includes psychodynamic), humanistic, and cognitive behavioural. While there is some crossover between these schools (one grew out of the other, with psychoanalytic being first) one could define them each other by something along the lines of:
Psychoanalytical therapy explores your unconscious to discover how your past experience has informed your future and can involve free association and dream analysis.
Humanistic therapyis interested in your capacity to achieve your potential and believes you know best what works for you. It might look to the past for patterns but also focuses on helping you address present day behavioural patterns.
Cognitive behavioural therapy mostly focuses on changing your present day behaviour to improve your moods and ability to cope. It focuses on the connection between thought, emotions, and actions.
Mindfulness is also increasingly used. It is a set of tools that help you be more present to what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing right now, instead of always being caught up in worries about the past and future.
Which approaches your therapist uses, and in what order, depend on you and what your issues and challenges are. For example, if you have come to see your integrative therapist as you are troubled by a childhood trauma they might use psychodynamic tactics, helping you remember what happened and examining the way you interpret your past. If this trauma has led you to behave in ways you don’t like, perhaps your therapist would then use cognitive behavioural techniques to help you gain more of an ability to monitor and choose your reactions on a day to day basis.
How is integrative therapy different than other forms of therapy?
Ways integrative therapy can be different to other forms of therapy are:
there is no exact model of working (although therapists might have some of their own models)
the therapy is fitted to you, instead of vice versa
it is flexible, it can be changed mid-process
it is less structured or rigid
Does integrative therapy have no structure at all, then?
Integrative therapy does not mean your therapist just randomly picks what they think would work from you from all the training they have.
While integrative therapists do use different schools of therapeutic thought, they will have learned or developed over time a structured way to combine their knowledge base, or, again, will be trained in the best ways to use different techniques together. There is still room for making your program of therapy bespoke and flexible, but it is not so loose as to feel experimental.
What are the benefits of integrative therapy?
You might find integrative therapy beneficial in the following ways:
you will understand more clearly what causes you to feel challenged in life
you will learn to recognise what triggers you into unhelpful behaviours and be supported in trying new, more productive ones
you can recognise limitations you’ve set on yourself and find ways to move beyond them
you can integrate all the different aspects of yourself (mind, body, emotions, social skills, spirituality)
you can set goals that lead you toward the life you feel happy about
you can begin to face your life in a more open, available, and less judgemental way
What issues is integrative therapy recommended for?
Integrative therapy is beneficial for the following issues: