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An integrative approach is the idea of integrating or combining aspects of several different schools of thought to promote wellness. This term is often used in psychotherapy to describe the way some therapists perform their work, but it can also be used in medicine, especially as it relates to combining the best theories from traditional Western medicine and alternative practices. The former term is more common, though the latter is gaining ground as people grow interested in alternative medical treatment.
With an integrative approach in medical care, medical professionals often work with a variety of practitioners who may or may not also be doctors. For instance, a general practitioner might send patients to a massage therapist, chiropractor, shamanic healer, or acupuncturist for some types of treatment. The idea behind this type of integration is that no treatment alone is necessarily appropriate and there are good treatments in all healing practices that can better promote patient well-being. The number of configurations of general practitioner and alternative healers can widely vary.
Similarly, discussing this approach in psychotherapy doesn’t always mean the same thing. Many therapists identify themselves as eclectic, meaning that they conduct treatment based on multiple schools of thought. They can tailor reliance on different therapy schools based on the apparent needs of clients. It wouldn’t be unusual for an eclectic therapist to offer brief therapy for some clients, types of cognitive behavioral therapy for others, and Jungian sand tray work or more in depth, “psychoanalytic” treatment to some people.
Another common configuration of integrative therapy is when people are most influenced by one school, but occasionally take ideas from other therapeutic models, as seems appropriate. Since most therapists have regular demand to fulfill continuing education requirements, they may find new therapies that they apply some of the time to assist clients.
An integrative approach can be much more rigid, where people combine therapies of specific schools of thought and work by these alone. Alternately, psychotherapists may note commonalities in most therapy ideas and create an individualized therapy that expresses these commonalities. This is often how new therapy schools arise; therapists see patterns in previous work and collect and present them as a new way of doing things, perhaps with additional ideas. Typically, previous therapy schools are fully credited, and the new approach truly is an integration of many methods.
There are many people attracted to a single type of psychotherapy, but clients can also find benefit in combined approaches, particularly if it is eclectic. When a therapist is well-trained in several methods, he or she offers clients greater adaptability. Even a little flexibility from a person working out of a traditional “school” and occasionally diverging from its normal path could mean greater choice in how therapy is conducted. It’s also important to note that those therapists who are wedded to a particular school of thought can be excellent practitioners and helpful to clients.