Integrative psychotherapy combines different therapeutic approaches to fit the needs of the individual client, and what s/he hopes to achieve in therapy.
What is Integrative Psychotherapy?
Integrative therapists will use different therapeutic approaches that are best suited to the client. It is based on the belief that a single therapeutic approach is unable to fully understand and treat the complexity of what the client is looking for help with.
The human experience is an integration of body and mind: physical experiences, thoughts, feelings, behaviours, relationships, our social context, spiritual life – everything that makes up our inner and outer world. Integrative psychotherapy reflects this.
Certain therapeutic approaches are better designed to access some aspects of our experience than others. For example:
- cognitive therapies such as CBT are helpful to focus on thoughts, beliefs and behaviours.
- body-oriented psychotherapies view symptoms in the context of the physical body in addition to the mind.
- psychoanalytic therapy will utilise unconscious material and dreams.
- psychodynamic therapies deal more with the client’s past than cognitive therapies do.
Integrative psychotherapy is an integration of different approaches and offers a more all-encompassing approach, that can contain all aspects of the client’s particular experience.
What is Integrative Psychotherapy used to treat?
Integrative psychotherapy techniques can be incorporated into almost any type of therapeutic work with children, adolescents, and adults, in individual practice or group settings.
An integrative approach can be used to treat any number of psychological problems and disorders, as it will encompass all aspects of the client’s experience of their problems, rather than focussing solely on one or two.
So, for example, in the case of depression, an integrative approach may focus on thoughts, feelings/emotions, behaviours, physical body experiences, understanding past patterns (childhood experiences), current coping strategies, social, cultural and developmental aspects of experience, relationships, sexuality and existential issues.
Not all of these areas may be relevant for a particular client, but an integrative therapist will be open to listening for, and working with those that are causing problems.
The types of problems that could potentially be treated by an integrative approach include:
What should I expect from Integrative Psychotherapy?
- It works on many levels at once - you may find that you are working cognitively on changing specific problematic behaviours whilst simultaneously developing an understanding of how such patterns developed as coping strategies in childhood (a more psychodynamic perspective).
- The relationship with the therapist is key - the therapeutic relationship will be developing as a means to facilitate change, so that a relational or attachment-focussed approach will be employed.
- Your therapy will adapt as you do – you may find the therapeutic approach changes over time – for instance if you come to therapy in crisis you might start with a CBT approach. As things settle, you may move into other ways of working.
- Developing psychological flexibility – your therapist will tailor the approach to both your needs but also to help you develop more rounded and balanced approaches in life. So if you have a tendency towards rational, intellectual solutions to problems, you may find that the therapist focuses you more on your physical body sensations and emotional feelings. If, however, you tend to react to situations primarily through your feelings, you may find the therapist focussing more on your rational, thinking mind. This creates psychological flexibility which can increase our resilience.
- Finding balance - the task in an integrative approach is to balance, synthesize or integrate the various aspects of the self. An integrative therapist should contain and ‘hold’ all of these different parts and aspects, along with the different ways of working, so that the focus of the therapy will shift as different aspects come into focus.
The sessions were tailored to exactly what I needed – they felt very personal to me and have helped me to reflect and change the way I think about myself.
Is Integrative Psychotherapy right for me?
It can be really hard to know which therapy is the right one for your current circumstances. It’s normal for people to find one type of therapy works at a particular time in their lives, but then change to another type later on.
The key indicators that Integrative therapy might be a good choice for you are:
- You aren’t sure what approach is best suited to you! This is very common for clients, there are over 50 types of therapy available and it is often difficult to know which is best for you, without trying them all! Many people find that whilst they want to talk about their childhood issues, they also want practical ways of moving things on, so an integrative approach can be one way of meeting all your needs and getting the most from you therapy.
- You want to try a few different therapies: Integrative psychotherapists consider the individual characteristics, preferences, needs, physical abilities, spiritual beliefs, and motivation level of their clients and use their professional judgment to decide the best approach to therapy for each client. Whilst you therapist won’t bombard you with different approaches, you might find that after 6 or so sessions you get a feel for what has helped you the most and can then decide how you wish to continue.
Why might Integrative Psychotherapy be the wrong therapy for me?
The right choice of approach depends both on what is wrong and on what your goals for therapy are. Sometimes it takes time to work this out but getting it right is really important to ensure you get the outcomes you are looking for from your therapy.
Before deciding to have Integrative therapy, it might be helpful to think about the following:
- How many sessions you want: Due to the in-depth exploration of issues and setting of goals, integrative counselling typically requires a substantial investment of time on the part of the client. Therefore, it may not suit those who want a quick, solution-focused approach to personal development. The length of the therapy will depend on the client, the therapeutic goals set and the types of issues that are being addressed.
- If you have a clear idea of how you want to work: The important thing with successful therapy is finding an approach that works for you, so if you know you work well with practical interventions, or you know you are interested in how others view you, you may want to opt for therapies like CBT, REBT, or CAT
- If you have been in therapy before: If you have had therapy before you will likely know what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that following some CBT, you now want to explore things in greater depth and therefore opt for something like Psychodynamic therapy