Would you be more likely to engage in therapy if it was custom tailored, encompassing your personality, spiritual beliefs, and overall well-being? If the answer is “yes,” integrative psychotherapy might be for you.
Psychotherapy is about mental health and well-being. No matter which method you’ve experienced, the overall goal is to help eliminate psychological distress and its causes.
Not everyone’s needs are the same, however, leading to multiple frameworks of psychotherapy that can be used in different situations.
Integrative therapy isn’t a defined process like other formats. Instead, it uses whatever methods are needed, based on your individual circumstances.
Integrative psychotherapy is just that — integrative. It doesn’t limit itself to a single school of thought or treatment method. Instead, it pulls therapeutic tools from a wide array of evidence-based psychotherapy and wellness approaches.
It’s therapy that’s customized for your needs.
“Integrative psychotherapy is a model of treatment that affirms and works with the whole person — their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, physiological systems, and their spirit (however the individual defines that),” explains Jennifer Warner, an integrative psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker from Chicago.
“This ‘holistic’ (whole) approach insures that the individual is understood in the context of their internal and external environments.”
The 8 philosophical principles of integrative psychology
Some contention exists about the formality of classifying integrative psychotherapy as an official practice versus a general approach to treatment.
For therapists who decide to embrace a formal philosophical alignment with integrative psychotherapy, the International Integrative Psychotherapy Association lists 8 core beliefs that reflect the values system of this approach:
- Human behavior must be understood at a nonpathological level.
- The therapist-patient relationship is more important than any single theory or method.
- Humans have an innate ability to heal and grow.
- Internal and external contact is paramount to human function.
- Interpersonal relationships drive motivation throughout life.
- All human behaviors have meaning.
- Every person is equally valuable.
- Human experiences are interlinked and defined as physiological, affective, and cognitive.
The only thing you can expect from an integrative psychotherapy approach is a custom blend of evidence-based treatments and a solid connection with your therapist.
Integrative therapy involves discovering and understanding yourself and how your individuality relates to your overall human function. You and your therapist forge a deep alliance by working through these details together.
Although there are 5 primary types of psychotherapy, within those categories are hundreds of subtypes. Once your therapist has a working knowledge of your overall needs, any one of these may become a part of your program.
Dr. Maura Ferguson, a psychologist from Toronto, Ontario, indicates that many evidence-based treatments alone don’t truly reflect how people fully experience mental health challenges.
“In most cases, when a person seeks therapy, they often have co-occurring diagnoses,” she explains. “There isn’t a specific combination of treatments that a clinician will employ, as each therapist and client (or patient) are different. In other words, there isn’t a specific combination of approaches that add up to integrative psychotherapy.”
Examples of integrative psychotherapy
Integrative psychotherapy exists anytime your therapist uses multiple models of treatment to address your specific needs.
Ferguson explains, in this way, it’s rare for a therapist to not be integrative. “Most, if not all therapists, learn several different approaches to psychotherapy and move between these approaches as needed based on what the client needs,” she says.
Integrative therapy is also about the therapist’s mindset — that it’s about focusing on you as a person and using multiple treatment formats to assist with your specific needs.
Examples of integrative approaches include:
- using cognitive behavioral strategies alongside motivational interviewing and emotion-focused psychotherapy
- engaging in family therapy, attachment-based psychotherapy, and music therapy
An integrative approach can potentially involve dozens of treatment methods.
“An integrative psychotherapist is trained in using many models that will allow for the experience of the whole person without limiting conversation (and therapist’s knowledge) to just the person’s thoughts and emotions,” Warner says.
Examples of techniques used in integrative therapy include:
Integrative therapy can be used in any situation because it’s not based on a single theory or method.
If you would benefit from trauma-informed therapy, for example, trauma-informed therapy will be a part of an integrative approach.
Integrative therapy uses many evidence-based methods, like CBT.
Without a defined format, however, it’s difficult to test the effectiveness of integrative therapy since no session is entirely the same.
A 2016 research paper argued the efficacy of integrative therapy because it:
- fits different patients, problems, and situations
- includes effective common factors like inspiring hope, providing alternative views of self, and creating an exchange of positive emotions between therapist and patients
- allows therapy adaptations based on individual needs and preferences
Other research has looked at various combinations of integrative therapy in an effort to assess its benefits.
In 2021, a small study found integrative psychotherapy was effective in bipolar disorder treatment. Researchers used a combination of psychoeducation, mindfulness, and cognitive and functional enhancement.
Integrative therapy isn’t a set psychological treatment method. It’s an approach to therapy that incorporates multiple evidence-based modalities.
For many practitioners, it’s also a philosophical stance that people should be treated based on their individuality and not on objectively diagnosed emotions or experiences.
In integrative therapy, you aren’t defined by your symptoms. You’re a whole person, and your treatment focuses on creating whole-person wellness.