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What is Integrative Counselling?

posted by Rosie on Wednesday, 21 July 2021

In life, there’s no ‘one size fits all’. Nowhere does this rule apply more than in therapy; what works for one person may not necessarily work for another, and there are certainly no hard and fast rules. Good counsellors and therapists know that making true progress with a client can require a period of experimentation.

That’s where integrative counselling comes in. If a therapist practises this, it means that they’re trained in a number of different therapeutic modalities, and will combine these in a way that best suits their clients’ needs. This approach acknowledges that each person is completely unique, and thus requires their own individualised style of therapy. It also allows counsellors to be more flexible and adaptable, and try different something else if a session isn’t going as planned.

Integrative counselling recognises the notion that we’re all made up of different psychological parts – some of which may be in conflict with one another, and some which we may not even be aware of – and aims to unify them. This bears similarities to another popular modality known as gestalt theory, which emphasises the importance of looking at the human mind, body, and behaviour as a whole.

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How does integrative counselling work?

Integrative counselling, sometimes called integrative psychotherapy, is a relatively new and collaborative approach to therapy that takes a ‘whole person’ approach. This means examining each client’s issues from a holistic perspective, and taking into account the different components that combine to make up psychological wellbeing. In order to achieve this, integrative counsellors use theories and tools from the three main schools of psychotherapeutic thought, which are as follows:

  • Humanistic theory – This theory emphasises the importance of being true to yourself and your inner feelings in order to lead the best life possible. Counsellors that practise this theory believe that all of us have our own unique way of looking at the world, and that this can impact our actions and choices.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – often known simply as CBT, this is a kind of talking theory which is based on the concept that our thoughts, actions, feelings are all interconnected, and that negative thoughts can easily leave you feeling trapped in a vicious cycle. This type of therapy is often favoured by the NHS.
  • Mindfulness – more popular than ever in recent years, mindfulness promotes the importance of staying aware in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or the future, which can cause anxiety.
  • Psychoanalytical therapy – counsellors who practise this approach believe that psychological issues are rooted within the unconscious mind, and that mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can be caused by repressed trauma, or issues that occurred during childhood.

Counsellor filling out form with woman sitting opposite

Counsellors will pick and choose tools from each particular school of thought as and when appropriate. For instance, during a session, a client might discuss their relationship with their parents and how it’s affected their current relationships using a psychodynamic approach, but then request calming exercises they can try at home which might harness the techniques of mindfulness or CBT.

What’s the aim of integrative counselling?

As with all types of therapy, the aim of integrative counselling is ultimately to allow the people receiving it to live happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives. It aims to explore the issues that might be causing problems, and allows counsellors to create a bespoke programme that’s as unique as their clients. At the heart of this is the belief that there is no one unifying theory that is most effective, and that seemingly contradictory theories can in fact work together in harmony.
That’s not to say that integrative counselling doesn’t follow a structure, nor will your counsellor just randomly pick and choose approaches as they feel like it. If you’re working with an experienced integrative counsellor, they’ll have developed a structured way to combine their knowledge base over time, so your sessions won’t feel too crazy or experimental!

What are the benefits of integrative counselling?

From the perspective of the counsellor, practising integrative counselling means that you’ll be able to provide your clients with therapy that fits them as an individual, and that you can easily switch things up if something isn’t working. From the client’s perspective, integrative counselling can be much more effective than traditional therapy, because it pays attention to the behavioural, affective, cognitive and physiological levels of functioning. It’s been show to be effective for a wide range of conditions and issues, such as:

• Addiction
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Trauma
• Bereavement
• Personality disorders

Two people sitting in counselling session on sofas

Incredibly, it’s also been demonstrated to help young people with special educational needs such as autism. What’s more, every part of integrative counselling is based on theories, techniques, and ideas backed by scientific evidence.

In addition to all this, many counsellors (and clients) feel that integrative counselling allows for a deeper, more emotionally charged therapeutic experience. Why? Because this type of therapy uses techniques that explore all ‘parts’ that make up the whole; the mind, body, brain, the conscious – and the unconscious. This means that you might spend part of the session delving into some of your traumatic childhood experiences through psychoanalytical theory, and spend the rest of it centring yourself through some mindfulness exercises.
Another great selling point of this type of therapy is that by taking a holistic approach, the client and the therapist are positioned as equals. This harnesses an atmosphere of empathy, support, and trust, and can lead to greater breakthroughs during counselling sessions.

What are the criticisms of integrative counselling?

As great as it sounds, some people believe that integrative counselling doesn’t work as well as its proponents claim. They state that using a mixture of different modalities can in fact be confusing for a client, and that a therapist switching between them frequently may not develop enough skills and knowledge to use any of them very effectively. Critics also claim that some counsellors are guilty of using techniques and approaches that are easier and more convenient for them, rather than those which are truly in the best interests of the client. Finally, purist person-centred therapists argue that this particular approach cannot be effectively combined with other modalities.

two people in counselling session

How can I learn more about integrative counselling?

Good question! Whether you’re an aspiring counsellor or simply interested in learning more about the principles and practices of the profession, enrolling on a counselling course is a great way to gain an in-depth understanding of the theories that counsellors use to provide practical help during therapy sessions. For instance, during the first module of our NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma in Counselling Skills, you’ll study the integrative counselling model in detail, along with some of the key theorists involved in its development.

Fascinated by subjects like these? Counselling could be the career for you! Browse our range of counselling courses and enrol online, or give one of our friendly, experienced learning advisers a call on 0121 630 3000.