What is integrative psychotherapy?

Few industries burden their clients with as much jargon as psychotherapy/counselling. Firstly, there’s the name. Is it psychotherapy, is it counselling? Can my psychotherapist counsel me?

Then there’s choosing a psychotherapist; would you like a person-centred therapist? Or would you prefer a psychodynamic analyst? Perhaps you’ve decided that multimodal therapy is for you.

And all this before you’ve entered the therapy space…

I am a practitioner that wants the best for everyone seeking mental support, and I find all of this terminology unhelpful. Instead of trying to make sense of psych-jargon, the client just wants to feel better. I am an integrative practitioner because I don’t believe therapists need to throw word salad at people who are experiencing distress. In this article I have two aims – to explain, in simple terms, what integrative practice can be and what to look for if you want an integrative therapist. Please remember that I am an integrative practitioner, as so I might be a little biased, but I want to help you find a therapist that is right for you.

What is integrative practice?

Integrative practice unifies more than one style of counselling/psychotherapy into a single form. This form should be designed to suit the specific client, and ideally have sound evidence to support it.

Integrative practitioners will do what most therapists do; they will use the first session to assess you. This is for you and the therapist to understand better what the therapy process could be, what your needs are, and how you might work together. You can also get a feel for if you will be able to get on with the therapist.

Integrative practitioners will be trained in a number of approaches. Using their knowledge of you and your needs, the therapist will begin to build a course of therapy that will both meet your needs, as well be appropriate for the issue you bring to therapy.

How do I choose an Integrative therapist?

Be aware of the word ‘integrative’. This is because, according to the BACP, 21% of therapists refer to themselves as ‘integrative’, making it the most practised form of psychotherapy/ counselling. However, some therapists refer to themselves as integrative because they’ve trained in several styles. They only become integrative therapists if they can make these styles work together. Let me explain;

Imagine two delicious treats. One is a cake. One is a sack of pick and mix. Pick and mix is a selection of entirely different things. You probably have them one at a time. A jelly baby. One of those fried egg ones. One of the slightly weird foam bananas. They’re all nice. They all taste good. But they’re separate. At the end of a bag of pick and mix, whatever urge you had for a sweet treat has probably gone. It’s a good treat. This is like therapy with a therapist that has trained in lots of ways, but isn’t necessarily ‘integrative’.

The cake is like an integrative therapist. The therapist has mixed eggs, and sugar and flour together and made something entirely new, in this case, a cake. You don’t eat a cake in its constituent parts; a cup of sugar, a cup of flour, chased down by a raw egg. You have it all in one integrated form. Like the pick and mix, this can satisfy whatever need you had for a sweet treat, but in a different way.

It’s important to stress here that both styles are capable of creating good work. I don’t necessarily believe that one is better than the other. But my belief is that, armed with this understanding, you might find it easier to choose a therapist that works for you.

Armed with this knowledge, here’s some handy tips for you to choose a therapist;

1. Check the therapist’s qualifications. Is their training integrative? Whether it’s a university course or a day’s CPD, if it’s integrative, it will, 99.9% of the time, have the word ‘integrative’ in the title.

2. Don’t be shy to ask questions of your therapist at the assessment stage. A therapist is unlikely to give you their PIN number, and may feel that some questions might be unethical to answer (for example why the therapist might have seen a counsellor in the past). But asking about the therapist’s qualifications or methods is totally legitimate. The BACP requires therapists to be open and honest about their qualifications as part of ethical practice.

3. Consider the type of training a therapist has had. A four-year university course in CBT and a two day ‘introduction to CBT’ course are not the same thing.

4. You can ask a therapist if they have experienced the style of counselling they offer as clients and if they felt it benefitted them. This can be a difficult question to answer for a therapist but may help you consider if this is right for you.

5. If a therapist you are considering uses jargon you don’t understand, ask them what it means. The therapist needs to communicate with you effectively, and might not realize you don’t understand something. Being swamped with jargon is the opposite of feeling safe and secure in a therapy space.

Hopefully, this blog has helped you understand integrative psychotherapy a little more. Remember, whatever you think of it, the choice of therapist is yours, and yours alone. Now, I’m off to go and eat more cake. And probably some pick and mix too…

About the Author
What is integrative psychotherapy? 1

Mat Pronger

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Mat Pronger is an integrative counsellor/psychotherapist who has used the Sheffield Wellness Centre to work from. He has done additional training to work with children and young people and he also has an interest in working with adults with learning difficulties.