Integrative therapies are an intuitively appealing approach. Learn about what they are and whether they make sense for you.
What Is Integrative Therapy?
The term “integrative” or “integrated” therapy is used in two ways.
- A type of psychotherapy that draws on multiple theoretical orientations.
- Treatment for a physical ailment that integrates the whole person into the healthcare plan. These treatments balance considerations of the body, the mind, and spirituality.
In this article, you will learn about the first meaning — psychotherapy that draws from multiple schools of psychological thought.
What Are Theoretical Orientations in Psychotherapy?
A theoretical orientation is a system of understanding the problems that bring people to therapy. It also provides a basis for understanding what makes therapy effective. Here are some examples:
A gestalt therapist helps clients focus on present-moment thoughts and feelings in an effort to achieve insight about relationships and other life patterns.
A cognitive-behavioral therapist thinks in terms of actions, thoughts, sensations, and emotions that interact to create psychological problems.
A psychodynamic therapist understands psychological problems in terms of subconscious drives and other factors. They use therapy to help clients gain insight into these issues, which help address the problem.
A mindfulness-based therapist uses practices derived from meditation. These practices help clients improve anxiety, to relate with emotions in a healthier way, and sometimes to enhance spiritual wellbeing.
A humanistic therapist relies on efforts to improve clients’ self-worth by helping them develop an unconditional positive stance toward themselves. It is less focused on mental health diagnoses than are other forms of therapy. Humanistic therapy sees people as inherently capable and worthwhile, and it aims to help them to see themselves that way too.
A dialectical behavior (DBT) therapist helps clients overcome issues related to regulating one’s emotions. This therapy is based on behavioral theory as well as on skill sets derived from both cognitive-behavioral therapy and Zen Buddhism.
Integrating Different Types of Therapy
If you think you might benefit from psychotherapy that draws on more than one of the above, integrative therapy might be for you.
There are valuable aspects to each of the above-listed types of therapy. Some therapists believe that subscribing to just one perspective is limiting. They find that drawing from two or more traditions makes sense for the work they are trying to do.
Other therapists find that one theoretical orientation is sufficient for providing good care. They may believe that mixing and matching schools of thought is akin to mixing orange juice with Coke; each of them are fine choices on their own, but combining them doesn’t make sense.
Are Integrative Therapies Better Choices Than Other Therapy?
There is no definitive answer to this question. Research on the effectiveness of psychotherapy typically focuses on therapy adherent to a specific theoretical orientation — not on integrative therapies. As a result, unfortunately, there is no clear scientific answer to this question.
At our practice, we do cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). We will sometimes use elements of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which might be considered integrative. However, DBT is a form of CBT. So combining them is less of a true integrative therapy than it might appear at first glance. These two therapies are very compatible with one another. In fact, one might say their approach is similar, they just tend to focus on different problems.
It can be difficult to determine which type of therapy is the best fit for you or for the problem you’re trying to address. (See also: our helpful guide to how to find the right therapist for you.) My advice is this: whatever option you choose, pay attention to whether the problem that brought you to therapy is getting better or not. After several sessions, if you don’t see improvement or a path to improvement, consider trying something different.
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