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What is Integrative Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Integrative therapy is a term which is most commonly used to refer to integrative psychotherapy, in which several different therapeutic techniques are used to address a patient's psychological issues. This term may also reference integrative approaches to physical therapy, bodywork, and medicine. Practitioners who offer integrative therapy have a broad field of knowledge to draw upon, which usually requires extensive training.

The key idea behind integrative therapy is that each individual person is unique and distinctive, which means that a one size fits all approach to therapy will not be effective, whether the therapy is intended to help someone recover physically from a car accident, or emotionally from a traumatic event. Practitioners who utilize integrative therapy can develop a program which has been designed specifically for the patient's unique needs, addressing peculiarities of the patient's personality and situation rather than providing generic treatment which may be less effective.

In integrative psychotherapy, any number of techniques can be used, ranging from Freudian psychoanalysis to group therapy. Psychotherapy is a vast and very diverse field, with many approaches to treatment and many different schools of thought, and integrative therapy is designed to draw from the most suitable approaches for a patient, with the therapist integrating aspects of various approaches which he or she thinks will be beneficial. For example, a therapist might use art therapy and group therapy with a young child, using the art to get the child engaging and talking, and the group therapy to provide support from peers for the child.

Physical therapy can also include an integrative approach. Integrative physical therapy may include reliance on traditional physical therapy methods such as weight training and occupational therapy techniques, along with less conventional approaches, like bodywork to tone muscles, or acupuncture to release tension. Because every body is different, integrating multiple techniques into a physical therapy program can be very beneficial for the patient.

Bodywork may be integrative in nature, with a practitioner using several techniques over the course of a session, such as traditional Swedish massage, reflexology, and shiatsu to address various issues. Many schools of bodywork offer classes in a wide range of modalities which allow practitioners to acquire a broad set of skills which can be used in integrative bodywork, or to focus on specific areas of interest, depending on the taste of the practitioner.

Integrative medicine, sometimes referred to as integrative therapy, utilizes both conventional and alternative approaches to health and wellness, with the goal of promoting health in the whole body.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By B707 — On Sep 06, 2011

A friend of mine was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The integrative approach to therapy is especially suited for this illness. She has frequent pain at various points in her body, and gets fatigued and anxious.

After doing some research, she decided to do an integrative therapy approach - some traditional, like physical therapy, and some alternative therapy, like acupuncture and prolotherapy. She also joined a fibromyalgia support group to get therapy for anxiety.

By live2shop — On Sep 06, 2011

An aunt of mine had a stroke about a year ago. It was a serious one. She started integrative physical and brain therapy as soon as she was well enough. She had intensive physical therapy to help her regain her strength and learn to use her arms better.

Her brain was also damaged and she lost most of her ability to talk. Unfortunately, the therapy to help restore brain function was not too successful.

Depending on what the damages from a stroke are, several different therapy types are used.

By bear78 — On Sep 06, 2011

@burcinc-- As far as I know, integrative psychotherapy doesn't just refer to the number of methods being used in treatment. Integrative psychotherapy is also the name of the treatment itself. It aims to "integrate" a person's psychology to make it whole and healthy once again.

For example, if someone experienced a trauma and lost certain qualities or ways of thinking that helps them cope with difficulties and learn to be happy because of that trauma, integrative psychotherapy will help that person rediscover those qualities and re-adopt them. This way, they are reintegrated, they can think in a healthier way and feel better again.

By burcinc — On Sep 06, 2011

I'm being treated for depression and my treatment consists of medication and therapy sessions with a psychologist. Can this be called integrative psychotherapy?

If I was just taking medicine or just going to a psychologist, it wouldn't be but since I do both, it's integrative right?

By discographer — On Sep 05, 2011

I personally think that integrative therapy should be the only form of therapy used. I completely agree that there is no one size fits all approach to health.

I know a friend for example, who was sent to physical therapy after a neck problem to help ease the pain and tension and also to strengthen her neck muscles. The physical therapy was what everyone was sent to, regardless of what their specific problem was and it did not work for my friend at all.

She went to massage and acupuncture on her own time and money and it did wonders for her. Her neck pain turned out to be stress based and relieving that physical tension and stress got rid of the pain.

I'm sure that the physical therapy sessions at the hospital work for a lot of people, but it doesn't work for all. We should be given options and doctors should integrate different approaches to help us return to our health. These different therapy and treatment methods should be more widely available and used in public hospitals in my opinion.

By Mammmood — On Sep 04, 2011

@NathanG - I’ve heard that some clinics have done some approaches with integrative cancer therapy, where they take a holistic approach to treating the disease.

They are quick, however, to point out that they don’t claim to cure the disease. I don’t know if they make those claims for liability purposes or what.

I do know that some Chinese herbal medicine has been used in treatment of cancer and some people claim that the correct diet, one that is alkaline and not acidic, will cure cancer. Supposedly, cancer cannot exist in an alkaline environment from what I’ve heard.

By NathanG — On Sep 04, 2011

@nony - Holistic therapy is integrative by definition as it aims to address infirmities in spirit, mind and body.

As to your point that doctors don’t accept the claims of alternative medicine, while in general that may be true I think even their own studies have confirmed that it’s effective.

Some time ago for example I read articles that physicians were beginning to see the benefits of integrating prayer with medication. They actually have peer reviewed studies that demonstrated patients who had gotten prayer with their medical treatment fared better than those who did not.

It’s hard to ignore a study in a peer reviewed publication. I think they’ve come to terms with the fact that there may be something to integrative practices, but the problem is that they have no training in implementing these approaches. I believe medical schools need to start adding classes on these subjects.

By nony — On Sep 03, 2011

I am a strong believer in complementary therapies; these are nontraditional therapies that can be administered along with conventional medicine.

In this scenario a doctor would prescribe herbal treatments for example, in addition to whatever else he asks you to take (as long as it’s not medication that conflicts with the herbal treatment).

The doctor may refer you to have physical body therapies or visualization relaxation techniques, instead of simply writing a prescription for Valium.

I went through a detoxification program some time ago and I can vouch for the effectiveness of alternate treatments. I’ve never taken a pill that made me feel as alive as that detoxification program did. I mentioned it to my doctor and he looked puzzled, and therein is the rub.

Most medical practitioners have no experience with alternative medicine – they may even mock it – and so that makes implementing complementary therapy all the more difficult.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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