Defining integrative psychotherapy is a little bit harder than defining other approaches because, in doing so, one has to go against the perception that integrative psychotherapy is a smorgasbord of several other better defined approaches.
The European Association for Psychotherapy says of integrative psychotherapy that it
“affirms the importance of a unifying approach to persons. Thus a major focus is on responding appropriately and effectively to the person at the emotional, spiritual, cognitive, behavioural and physiological levels.”
This statement conveys something important about the focus of integrative psychotherapy, which is that it seeks to address the totality of a person’s experience. In this short article I would like to say more about this, as well as elaborate on what integrative practice looks like.
Psychotherapy is integrative in scope and in outcome. It brings together into a consistent, functioning whole, the teachings of different schools of thought (psychodynamic, existential and person-centered) and, similarly, it seeks to help the patient integrate their conscious and unconscious lives.
The integrity of the person, that is, their deep sense of being ‘one thing’ and their ability to enact this consistently, starts developing from conception and is achieved – and tested – over time through interaction in different settings, from family to society and nature.
Where do our problems come from?
Pathology arises because we rarely get from our environment the response that is totally appropriate to our needs. We therefore develop unsatisfactorily and incompletely, and cannot take care of ourselves and others like we are able to. We live without integrity because a large part of our experience does not enter into the way we relate to ourselves and others.
For example, if a child’s parents do not acknowledge and respond well to, say, their feeling sad and being tearful, they will not help the child acquire the ability to acknowledge their own feelings and act accordingly, or to have emotionally satisfactory relationships with others.
How does integrative psychotherapy help?
Psychotherapy is the combination of a process (the conversation) and an environment (the therapeutic relationship) that afford the individual a reparative experience. This is made possible by the constant endeavour of the therapist to respond appropriately to the needs of their patient.
As a result of this, the therapeutic relationship is absolutely central to the healing process, and therefore the therapist works with a constant awareness of self and other. The therapist will seek to model integrity in their presence to the patient, which means calling upon the totality of their experience to help the patient make sense of their own.
It is essential that the therapist take into account the capacity of the patient to engage in psychotherapy and not try and impose a form to the encounter when it does not correspond to a genuine need of the patient. This is why the is no systematic use of transference interpretations, no imposition of a frequency of therapy, and no fixed setup in the consulting room that the patient has to adhere to. The therapist needs to work out what they need to take good enough care of themselves and create their boundaries and practices accordingly, and then enforce them firmly. This requires the therapist to be constantly in tune with themselves, and this is greatly facilitated by their own psychotherapy and supervision.