When it comes to psychotherapy, there are many different approaches that can help people cope with mental challenges. Some schools of thought in psychology focus on the cognitive aspects of a person, while others primarily work with emotions.
There are no wrong approaches in helping someone heal from psychological distress. Some therapy approaches go even further and aim to bring the different dimensions of a person together. This is the case of integrative psychotherapy, a modern therapy modality that became popular in the last decade.
Integrative therapy takes a holistic approach to a person. It is founded on the belief that mental problems are caused by dysfunctions in multiple aspects of someone’s life, such as cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical. For this reason, when choosing therapy with an integrative psychotherapist, you will find that they will take into account wider aspects of your life, and not just what you think and how you feel. If you’re wondering what integrative therapy is and how it can benefit you, this article is for you.
How Does Online Integrative Therapy Work?
Integrative therapy works in a similar manner to other therapies. The fundamental difference is that, unlike specific therapy modalities, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), integrative therapy does not focus on a sole aspect of someone’s existence. Instead, it aims to treat and heal mental disorders from multiple angles. Some characteristics of this type of therapy are:
One important goal of integrative therapy is the formation of a strong therapeutic alliance. This refers to the rapport that the client has with the therapist. It encompasses elements such as trust, openness, reliability, authenticity, and unconditional acceptance. Many clients know they have a good rapport with their integrative therapist when they’re able to disclose personal issues without fear of being judged for their thoughts.
Once you start integrative therapy, your therapist will bring their side of work into creating a strong therapeutic alliance with you. They will empathize with you and create a safe space where you can bring the most intimate or difficult issues and challenges in your life.
There is no standard time for how long it should take you to build an alliance with your therapist. Some people feel very comfortable with their therapists after a couple of sessions, while others need more time to adjust to the therapeutic process.
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The key role of relationships
Integrative therapy places great emphasis on interpersonal relationships. Its model is founded on the belief that mental wellbeing cannot happen independently of the connection with other human beings. For this reason, integrative therapy explores key relationships in someone’s life, such as the relationship with one’s parents or primary caregivers. It also helps people build a healthy and fulfilling social life and be part of a wider community.
The spiritual and transpersonal dimension
Besides relationships and social life, integrative therapy also takes into account the individual’s relationship with spirituality or religion. For example, integrative therapists might help their clients use spirituality as a resource in their own healing since it is thought that the transpersonal aspect is key for mental wellbeing.
Some techniques used to explore the spiritual domain are mindfulness meditations, visualization, guided imagery, inner child healing, etc.
In integrative therapy, the physical aspect of human existence is never excluded from mental wellbeing. For this reason, somatic therapy or body-based work is always discussed in the therapeutic process. Physical discomfort symptoms are interpreted, in integrative therapy’s view, as a manifestation of psychological distress. This physical manifestation is also called somatization, which refers to physical correlates of mental symptoms such as anxiety, panic, anger, depression, etc.
Overall, integrative therapy is more encompassing and holistic than other therapeutic approaches. Unlike more cognitive-oriented therapies, which believe that mental distress is rooted in thinking style only, this therapy modality takes a more complex approach to human distress and goes beyond the mind.
What Are Online Integrative Therapy Techniques?
The great thing about the benefits of integrative therapy is that it can effectively be applied online. The techniques used by integrative therapists are varied and highly adaptable, which means that online therapy can help clients reach their goals as efficiently as in-person therapy sessions. Examples of techniques that may be used during online integrative therapy include:
Inner child work
As part of this technique, individuals are supported to explore their early childhood experiences and the way these affect present-day functioning. Everyone was a child once, and the memory we accumulate during early experiences can affect our mental wellbeing. Doing inner child work is highly efficient when it comes to achieving more self-acceptance, self-love, and better relationships with others.
Relaxation and grounding techniques
In integrative therapy, being grounded within one’s body is highly important. The mind cannot achieve a state of peace and calm while living in an anxious or restless body – hence the emphasis on physical relaxation techniques. Some techniques used in this sense are mindfulness meditation, body scans, or breathing exercises. When clients are supported to implement these techniques into their lives, they learn to become more attuned to their body’s signals. The relaxation techniques are part of a wider protocol for mental wellbeing and not a therapeutic process in themselves.
Another technique some integrative therapists use is the empty chair technique. This tool refers to a process where the client connects to a person in their lives (or a deceased one), animal, experience, or part of themselves during an imaginary conversation. Using this technique can help individuals express unsaid words, process challenging emotions, and release past experiences while they are in the supportive presence of the therapist.
Is Online Integrative Therapy Effective?
Although the environment for in-person and online therapy differs, the efficacy of the intervention does not decrease. There are plenty of studies showing that online therapy adds many benefits to mental health care due to its increased flexibility and convenience, without any real disadvantages.
Providing therapy remotely leads to increased therapy uptake for reasons such as decreased stigma associated with mental health, easier access to sessions, and financial reasons. Costs associated with mental health involve therapist transport costs, which are greatly reduced in the case of teletherapy.
A controlled randomized trial study looking into the difference between face-to-face CBT versus online interventions for bulimia nervosa found some conclusive evidence for this claim. The costs for in-person CBT were estimated to be a lot higher than those for online counseling. The difference in therapy costs was accounted for by costs associated with travel.
Despite this particular difference, in-person and online therapy were found to be similarly effective. This study provides relevant and reliable evidence for the applicability of online therapy in the treatment of disordered eating, as participants in this study showed a significant reduction of their symptoms as a result of this therapy method.
Increased patient retention
Therapy treatment outcomes are significantly reduced by low patient retention. In traditional therapy, patients can interrupt treatment due to challenges in attending physical sessions. Missing one session can increase negative feelings such as guilt in patients, which then leads them to skip further sessions or abandon treatment altogether.
However, online therapy is more accessible, meaning that it does not require you to leave your home when physical conditions do not allow you to do so. This conclusion was even reinforced by a previous study that found that online therapy for anorexia nervosa facilitates the recruitment and retention of patients via an online platform. This study found no compromise in the effectiveness of the intervention delivered, meaning that the treatment provided online was as efficient as the one delivered in person.
Many patients abandon therapy for various reasons. A common reason for doing so can be the lack of motivation to attend the therapy session due to the perceived effort for traveling to the clinic. However, online therapy eliminates this risk by decreasing the perceived effort of physically attending the session. In turn, this can motivate patients to attend online therapy sessions regularly and increase their chances of completing an entire course of therapy.
The Bottom Line
Online integrative therapy is a modern, collaborative, and efficient approach for the treatment of different symptoms of mental distress. More and more people become open to different holistic approaches and techniques, which is what increases the demand for integrative therapy.
Given its inclusion of the physical and spiritual domains, integrative therapy is an excellent intervention method, especially for clients who are not sure where their distress stems from.