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What is Integrative Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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n the very broadest sense, integrative psychotherapy is when therapists utilize philosophies from several therapy schools. The types of combinations and the rigidity with which these combinations are used vary significantly. Therapists who practice in this manner may differentiate between true integration and what is termed eclecticism. The latter could be defined as practicing therapy methods from different schools of thought as needed and for each client; this is viewed as less purposeful or bound by discipline than integrative therapy, though it may be effective for many therapists and their clients.

There are additional definitions of this form of therapy. Organizations like the Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy suggest the idea of integrating exists on many levels. It doesn’t just refer to a blend of proven psychotherapeutic methods employed in therapy. Instead, it refers to how this combination helps bring together disparate elements in the personality of each client.

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There could be many examples of the ways in which therapy schools of thought are brought together. In some instances, people begin with a specific theoretical orientation, but over time they may add other effective elements. For instance, the emphasis on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) beginning in the 1990s was not lost on a number of psychodynamic and developmental therapists. Many of them learned CBT so they could impart it to clients struggling with certain issues, while still maintaining their primary framework. A few more therapists learned dialectical behavioral therapy as a specific means of helping those with borderline personality disorder.

These therapists did not lose their original theoretical grounding, but augmented it with new information that could be used as needed. This is thought different from eclecticism because the choice of new methods was purposeful, and most therapists determined ways to integrate these new methods with primary orientation. The decision to use one therapy or another could be predetermined by the client’s specific needs.

Integrative psychotherapy is certain not limited to two theoretical models. Some therapists assert that most therapy schools have something to teach about behavior and healing mental illness or angst. How to integrate these schools then becomes a question of some debate, and therapists must consider which ideas will meet to form a more perfect therapy that is client-centered. For example, a therapist may consider if Gestalt work, as opposed to hypnosis or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), is a better tool than transactional analysis for certain issues.

Those who support integrative psychotherapy may have different opinions on the best marriage of therapy school ideas. It should also be noted that there is a steady inspiration for adopting an integrative or eclectic approach. Most license requirements include continuing education, which means therapists can explore new ideas if they choose on a fairly regular basis. Those not in favor of integrative psychotherapy are welcome to take continuing education classes that are supportive of their specific “school,” but therapists interested in challenging the ideas they hold presently may opt for learning new concepts or studying emerging fields of thought.

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