What does integrative psychotherapy mean?

The word “integrative” comes from the Latin word ”integer” which means to make whole, to complete. Integrative psychotherapy means to integrate, to include or assimilate something into a whole. Therefore, integrative psychotherapy means to bring together, in its own harmonious frame, various psychotherapy elements from other approaches.

What is integrative psychotherapy?

Integrative psychotherapy is an approach or type of therapy that integrates different psychotherapy elements such as tools, techniques and theories. The psychotherapists started to move toward an integrative approach around 1930s when they noticed the limitations of the popular psychotherapies at that time.

They needed a broader framework and understanding of the human being, mind, and to offer a larger spectrum of interventions that could guide the client towards healing.

At that time, the available psychotherapy types were the dynamic (psychoanalysis, founded by the father of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud), behavioral, and humanistic-experiential approaches.

The psychodynamic limitations were that the treatment takes too long. The behavioral approach was criticized that does not reach to the more profound causes of a problem, focusing only on behavior changes. Last but not least the limitations of the humanistic-experiential approaches were that they are far too positive and don’t deal with the more difficult aspects of one’s life.

Therefore, the search for integration started. No one knew what is integrative psychotherapy at that point in time, but the direction was clear: combine and optimize.

As an example, the cognitive behavioral therapy is an integrative approach. The cognitive and behavioral frameworks are combined into a unique one that is more efficient and serves the needs of a person better. Let’s take this to the integrative psychotherapy.

Integrative psychotherapy takes elements, techniques and theories from many psychotherapy types and constructs its own theoretical and practical frame, such as (I will name the approaches I learned about in my school):

  • Psychoanalysis
  • Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy or CBT
  • Gestalt psychotherapy
  • Psychosynthesis
  • Transactional analysis
  • Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness
  • Psychodrama

Other integrative psychotherapists could integrate different psychotherapy approaches, which is ok (as long as they have a scientific background, my sole opinion).

What is the official definition of integrative psychotherapy?

Here is an official definition to learn what is integrative psychotherapy. The European Association of Integrative Psychotherapy (EAIP, the association I am affiliated with) defines as “Integrative” “any methodology and Integrative orientation in psychotherapy which exemplifies, or is developing towards, a conceptually coherent, principled, theoretical combination of two or more specific approaches, and/or represents a model of integration in its own right.” (fragment from euroaip.eu)

How does integrative psychotherapy work?

In integrative psychotherapy every client is unique and the treatment plan is tailored to their needs and goals. The approach to every client’s problem is flexible, prone to changes at any point during the process.

This is possible because the integrative psychotherapy is based on the three main schools of psychotherapeutic thought: psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral and humanistic:

  • The psychodynamic approaches help explore the unconscious mind and understand how your past is influencing the present moment, looking for the root cause of the current difficulties.
  • The cognitive behavioral approaches help understand how thinking influences and changes the behavior in the present moment, and change the patterns of thinking to improve the feeling and behavior.
  • Humanistic approaches help discover the client’s power to achieve their potential, being the person who knows best what works for them.

As you can see, integrative psychotherapy focuses on the present moment and helps the client gain a deep understanding, healing and change in their life.

What are the main psychotherapy types that unite under integrative psychotherapy?

Integrative psychotherapy brings together a number of psychotherapy types that come from any of the main three approaches detailed above. The approaches that I learned about are the following:

  • Psychoanalysis was developed by neuropsychiatrist Sigmund Freud in the late 1890s. The treatment of psychological disorders is done by exploring the interaction between conscious and unconscious minds, and bringing to the conscious mind the unconscious contents through special techniques designed for this purpose.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of psychotherapy which emphasizes the fact that the way we think about ourselves and the world influences our behavior and emotional state.
  • Gestalt therapy is an existential phenomenological approach founded by Friedrich Perls and his wife Laura Perls in 1940s. It focuses on the individual experience of the present moment, the patient’s relationship with the world and how he adapts to the situations of life.
  • Psychosynthesis is a type of psychotherapy founded by Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychoanalyst, and the main aim is to integrate all aspects of the human being – body, mind, spirit.
  • Transactional analysis was developed by Eric Berne in late 1950s. The central idea of this approach is that in our social relations are displayed the interactions between our adult, parent and child mental states.
  • Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness are powerful tools that can be used during psychotherapy, depending on the clients’ treatment plan. Guided imagery and mindfulness are interventions backed up by science and are important in integrative psychotherapy.
  • Psychodrama is a type of psychotherapy founded by Jacob Levi Moreno in the early 1900s. Psychodrama work takes place usually in a safe group. The central idea of psychodrama is to act or put into role play the different problems of the client to gain perspective and improve their well-being.

What are the advantages of integrative psychotherapy?

  • The client is a living whole. In integrative psychotherapy the patient is seen as a whole with the emotional, behavioral, physiological, psychological and spiritual levels integrated to form a unity. The view of the patient is not limited to a collection of emotions or behaviors.
  • Adaptability and flexibility. The intervention is highly adaptable to the uniqueness of the clients, their needs and objectives. This is due to the integration of different therapeutic approaches. Therefore integrative psychotherapy ensures flexibility of the treatment plan. The treatment plan is not limited to only one theoretical frame.
  • The client is an important part in the client-psychotherapist relationship. The integrative psychotherapy is relational. The therapeutic alliance developed between the psychotherapist and the patient is essential for the psychotherapy process and its evolution. The client is accompanied by the psychotherapist throughout the entire process.
  • Safe environment for the client. The work alliance (client-psychotherapist alliance) provides a safe setting for the client to explore his Self and to find solutions to his problems.
  • Looks at the root causes of difficulties and attempts healing. Integrative psychotherapy allows to explore and heal deep and hurtful wounds that impact the clients is their everyday life. At the same time, integrative psychotherapy enables the work on personal development and help the clients reach their potential, having an impact on both short and long term.

How is integrative psychotherapy different than an eclectic approach?

The therapeutic approaches that unite in integrative psychotherapy are gestalt therapy, psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychosynthesis, transactional analysis, meditation, mindfulness and psychodrama.

These types of psychotherapy are scientifically approved and theoretically integrated in integrative psychotherapy. This means that they are synthesized in order to create a conceptual framework for psychotherapy. Even more, integrating these approaches helps by allowing one approach to complete the weaknesses of another.

Having a wide range of integrated approaches, integrative psychotherapy promotes flexibility in treating clients, responding to their needs in a personalized way. This process requires a greater effort from the psychotherapist’s side to ensure quality psychotherapy interventions. It means that the psychotherapist should be ready in any moment to change the strategies to correspond to the cognitive, emotional, behavioral and spiritual needs of each client.

This is different from an eclectic approach to therapy. Eclectism is focused on the techniques that the practitioner thinks they work for the client, regardless if they are backed by science or not. Eclectism does not necessarily have an integrated theory background, focusing on the techniques used. Some psychotherapists may call themselves integrative, but may be eclectic instead.

Is there scientific proof that integrative psychotherapy works?

Yes. There is important scientific proof that this therapy type works. The European Association of Integrative Psychotherapy lists the scientific validation criteria for this approach.

Psychotherapy, in its various forms, was tested and scientifically validated for its efficacy in treating mental health disorders. Lately, there has been a consensus on the common factors of psychotherapies.

These factors are the basis for integration and help the success of a therapy. The factors point at both the therapist and the client, and their working alliance. The working alliance (therapeutic relationship) can determine the success of one’s therapy.

What problems is integrative psychotherapy recommended for?

As we saw above, integrative psychotherapy offers a wide working frame based on the unified approaches. Therefore, it can help people who seek psychotherapy for various issues. Among the various problems integrative psychotherapy can help with there are:

What are the benefits of integrative psychotherapy?

There are many benefits that a client can get from integrative psychotherapy. Each person can feel different benefits, but among the most common there are:

  • Explore and understand the causes of the current hurting, problem, or blockage.
  • A better understanding of oneself.
  • Overcoming limitations, obstacles in one’s life or in reaching goals.
  • Notice the subtle repeating patterns in life, career, relationships, thoughts, and in relation to oneself.
  • Make concrete steps to heal the pain, trauma or other emotional difficulties.
  • Enhanced awareness of unconscious content.
  • Integration of aspects of oneself into a more healthy, complete and balanced being.

Summary

In this article you learned about what is integrative psychotherapy:

  • Integrative psychotherapy refers to integration, and is a psychotherapy approach that unifies other types of psychotherapy into a clear theoretical and conceptual frame.
  • Some of the psychotherapy approaches unified under the integrative psychotherapy label are psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral psychotherapy or CBT, gestalt psychotherapy, psychosynthesis, transactional analysis, hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness, and last but not least, psychodrama.
  • Integrative psychotherapy has many advantages and benefits that prioritize and meet the needs and goals of each person.
  • Integrative psychotherapy is backed by scientific evidence for its efficacy.
  • This type of psychotherapy is recommended for a wide variety of issues and mental health problems.
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