Integrative therapy, or integrative counselling is a combined approach to psychotherapy that brings together different elements of specific therapies. Integrative therapists take the view that there is no single approach that can treat each client in all situations. Each person needs to be considered as a whole and counselling techniques must be tailored to their individual needs and personal circumstances.
Integrative counselling maintains the idea that there are many ways in which human psychology can be explored and understood - no one theory holds the answer. All theories are considered to have value, even if their foundational principles contradict each other - hence the need to integrate them.
The integrative approach also refers to the infusion of a person's personality and needs - integrating the affective, behavioural, cognitive, and physiological systems within one person, as well as addressing social and spiritual aspects. Essentially, integrative counsellors are not only concerned with what works, but why it works - tailoring therapy to their clients and not the client to the therapy.
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What is the aim of integrative therapy?
Integrative counselling aims to promote healing and facilitate wholeness - ensuring that all levels of a person's being and functioning (mental, physical and emotional health) are maximised to their full potential. Clients must be committed to self-exploration and open to identifying what factors in their life are perpetuating problems, and/or are causing current concerns.
In particular, the integrative approach helps clients face each moment openly and authentically without having formed an opinion, expectation or attitude beforehand. This enables them to better focus on the fears and hurts that limit their psychological freedom, and recognise specific triggers that may be causing disruptive patterns of behaviour.
Through this awareness, integrative therapy helps to create a healthy alliance between mind and body - empowering clients to start setting goals and practising new behaviours that will enable them to move beyond their limitations and discover greater life satisfaction. This will be worked towards alongside other goals that are drawn into therapy through the integration of other approaches. These will all be tailored to the client's personal limits and external constraints.
How does integrative therapy work?
As aforementioned, the process of integrative counselling is very much centred on the active exploration of experience - a phenomenological view of reality. It is the role of an integrative counsellor to foster this by using specific techniques and key concepts drawn in from various approaches that are appropriate to their client.
Integration of approaches
The central premise of integrative counselling is that there are many ways in which human functioning can be explored and understood. This means integration can occur through a variety of modalities/systems of perspective. These may include:
- humanistic therapies
- psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies
- cognitive and behavioural therapies
Each approach offers explanation and insight into human behaviour, as well as a unique understanding of key factors that will result in changes to behaviour and other areas of functioning such as cognition and emotions. These can be reinforced when selectively integrated with other elements of therapy.
For example, if an integrative therapist is working with a client that has behavioural problems, they may want to start the therapy by working on adjusting behavioural functioning and reducing symptoms. This may involve applying cognitive behavioural techniques to help the client establish some control over their functioning before moving on to the next stage of therapy (i.e. working on improving, and gaining insight into the client's behaviours, emotions and thoughts). In this stage, the therapist may employ psychoanalytic techniques that recall childhood experiences and interpretation, dream analysis or analysis of transference.
The attitude and presence of an integrative counsellor is another crucial element of integrative therapy. It is generally believed that the most effective model requires the therapist to be non-judgemental, interpersonal and intent on establishing a supportive and cooperative relationship with their client. They must also engage in deep, attentive listening without the pre-suppositions that can distort understanding.
This meaningful contract between equals is thought to empower clients - helping them to explore and recognise patterns of behaviour that need to be addressed through change and the setting of new goals. This aspect of integrative therapy is often referred to as the personal integration of therapists - they are committing themselves wholly to their client and their exploration of self.
Benefits of integrated therapy
A key advantage of integrative counselling is its flexibility and focus on the whole of an individual. The integration of different approaches means therapy can be tailored to meet a variety of needs and concerns. It can be particularly beneficial for those who want to overcome negative patterns of behaviour caused by anxieties, fears, phobias or any other mental health issue that is greatly impacting life satisfaction (i.e. addictions, depression, past and current trauma, bereavement and low self-esteem). It has also been found useful in improving daily function in children with autism and learning difficulties. Often these problems can affect the four dimensions of human functioning - affective, behavioural, cognitive, and physiological systems.
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.