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What is an Integrative Approach?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By extrordinary — On Feb 16, 2011

@flowerchild--To find information about alternative therapy of any kind, start with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) agency. This is one of the federal government's agencies for scientific research on many of the alternative approaches. They also provide education for providers and the general public on what can safely be incorporated into an integrative approach to medicine. Enjoy, I love the integrative approach to wellness!

By flowerchild — On Feb 15, 2011

Can anyone tell me where or how to look up integrative approaches to medicine or therapy? What is approved and what is not? I would like to add some of these services to my family's health care, but have no idea where to start. Thanks for the help!

By peasy — On Feb 14, 2011

I love the integrative approach to medicine. I work with a Nurse Practitioner who specializes in integrative medicine and is in great demand with general practitioners. We have found this type of approach to be very healing for a lot of people. When working with integrative medicine you look at the person as a whole being not just a disease of some form. When we visit with a patient we take a history of physical, mental and spiritual health as it all works together. It is very exciting to see this approach become more accepted.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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