Eclectic, Integrative, and Pluralistic approaches to psychotherapy…

Integrative psychotherapy, when the term is used properly, relates to an approach that tries to support the client while they “integrate” their body, mind, spirit, and emotions.  There are a number of organisations that train therapists to work in this way, and while they have different techniques, the fundamental concept remains true to them.  While humanistic psychotherapists don’t work with all of these dimensions themselves, their approach aims to help the client achieve the degree of integration of them all that they feel comfortable with, though there may be some discussion around the meaning of ‘spirit’.  Both approaches place emphasis on the relationship between the counsellor and the client.  Humanistic therapists have a further philosophical perspective that seeks to have the client achieve their fullest potential, whereas integrative ones seek the level of integration of the different dimensions from the perspective of the client and what they are comfortable with.

Most ‘true’ schools of therapy have some kind of underlying philosophical perspective too.  Thus, the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) places both integrative and humanistic approaches under one “College”.  The training organisations, traditionally, license their own graduates as practitioners, so while all therapists are going to be slightly different, a client might reasonably expect the kind of support that they receive from two therapists from the same organisation to be largely the same.

Unfortunately, there are some, naïve, therapists who use the terms “integrative” and “eclectic” as synonyms.  These therapists may call themselves “integrative” when in practice that are taking elements from one philosophy, with its associated techniques, and using them in association with aspects of the philosophy and tools of another.  The support that you receive from two such ‘eclectic’ practitioners is unlikely to be the same, because each picks the bits they like from more than one box. 

This alternative adoption of the term Integrative Psychotherapy to describe a hybridized form was a blatant attempt to benefit by association. Many practitioners who trained in-depth within a single school understandably take exception to this distortion of methods and their underlying philosophies.

As if this wasn’t confusing enough, another term has recently gained popularity – pluralistic psychotherapy.

If eclecticism is the generation, by an individual therapist of their own hybrid approach, often with limited training in only one school, then the pluralistic approach is very different.  It recognises that there are many similarities between the schools (because they have similar ontogenies as most evolved from the early theories of Freud, Firenze, Rank, and Taft).  The pluralistic therapist draws on these shared elements to help their client reach the point at which the philosophical differences emerge, and then the client would probably be expected to wish to move on to a purer form of practitioner.

This is not merely a matter of semantics (and a grumbling old-timer). Eclectic practice (and integrative practice when it is used to mean the same thing) can never be validated because no two eclectic practitioners have the same approach. Pluralistic can – up to a point – as can individual schools. This is important, because if a psychotherapeutic approach cannot be validated then it is frankly no better than snake-oil. 

NB I wrote a similar piece a few years ago about the emergence of “integrative coaching”.

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