Deborah Ward

Integrative Psychotherapy

What is Integrative Psychotherapy?

"I closed my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways." ~ Rumi

Many people ask me what is Integrative Psychotherapy. That is a good question and also one that is not easy to answer. The reason is that Integrative Therapy seeks to understand various approaches and puts these together in a way that resonates with the practitioner and proves effective in practice. Therefore, each Integrative Therapist should be practising in their own experienced and authentic way.

However, there is one major difference in how Integrative Therapy training is approached. Every integrative training I have heard of requires an academic appreciation of a wide range of therapeutic theory. Every integrative training I have heard of also requires personal development work on the part of the therapy student. However, what sets two main strands of Integrative Therapy apart is the form that the synthesis of academic learning and personal development work takes.

The Integrative theory I utilise was originally developed by Helen Davis, founder of The Minster Centre. This rigourous training demands that the theoretical formulation is integrated within the practical integration of self-development. It is, therefore, an integration within an integration. Some schools integrate various schools of intellectual understanding as a sort of eclectism of theory and treat personal development as a separate exercise. The training I did felt it was essential that a further step was taken to integrate the intellectual understanding with the individual's very core of being. This was to ensure authenticity of the therapist in his or her work.

Here is a brief summary of Integrative therapy theory as I practice it.

Integrative Therapy at the Theoretical Level

At the theoretical level, we acknowledge there is no One Truth when it comes to the different schools of psychotherapeutic thought. While they all may contain truths, we see that different therapeutic modalities have greater or lesser relevance depending upon the individual and what they are hoping to achieve through therapy. In other words, an integrative therapist does not offer a 'one size fits all' approach. Different people will need a different approach at different times.

Integrative therapy is a deeper process than what some call 'eclectism'. The integrative therapist does not pick and choose in a patchwork manner. We have studied individual understandings, researched them and practised them in a training environment to discover what has meaning for us and how to discover what may have more meaning for differing types of clients.

When we have had this experience, we are able to see for ourselves how modalities work, when they are effective and in what context are they meaningful. It is a matter of stepping back, seeing the bigger picture and connecting together the relevant aspects. The individual therapist then 'integrates' or weaves together aspects of established learning to build a multi-facetted way of working. The edges become unified, as opposed eclectism, where they can be 'seamed'.

It requires a very careful and skilled training. The therapist must go through their own process of integration to practice this well.

The Integrative therapist draws upon established and respected resources in order to help them understand the individual more fully. This understanding forms the basis of the work. The work is to facilitate the person in self-reflection to gain greater self-awareness and insight. And, more importantly, try things in new and more positive ways within the safe environment of the therapy room.

Integration of the Individual

Like many forms of therapy, the Integrative approach traces many of our emotional problems to the repetition of patterns that are no longer helpful.

For example, if a child was bullied on the playground, one possible defence would be to learn ways of making themselves less visible, so they would be less of a target. That is a coping strategy that has meaning within that context. But if that person carries the belief system of needing to be invisible forward in life, they may automatically apply it to other situations where it is not so helpful. This person may, for example, find it difficult to operate within groups or ensure they receive the acknowledgement they deserve and may not even understand why. They may be repeating the pattern of 'going invisible' in a group setting without even knowing they are doing it. They have learned how to 'block out' or disable little parts of themselves to survive. For this person to mix in society in a more comfortable and constructive way, they may need to resuscitate those aspects of their personality that were pushed away. Life's events may have 'taught' beliefs about the self that are not ultimately true.

A professional, therapeutic releationship provides the setting to receive feedback from the therapist to discover what impact these outmoded behaviours or expressions actually have. How people's words or actions are perceived by others can be markedly different from what was intended. This can cause problems, especially when the person is unaware this is happening. In turn, it helps people get out of those situations that give rise to questions like 'Why do I always...?' or 'Why do people always treat me ...?' and so on.

When this happens it is reasonably clear to assume that aspects of this person are not all working together. They feel they are a particular type of person, but are acting in a way which is provoking a very different impression in others. This is a lack of integration.

Integrative therapy is not seeking to change the person. It seeks to recall all the wholesome and healthy parts of the self and re-integrate them into the functional self. This is a uniquely individual process and, rather than changing you, it seeks to make you more you.