The Attitudes of the Integrative Therapist

Psychotherapy Integration: Attitudes of the Integrative Therapist | Elizabeth Dickson

Using Theories and Concepts Responsibly

Prioritizing “emergence” in the therapy process does not mean that we must be confined to the role of empathic listeners; we need the freedom and the skills to be proactive in creative ways when the situation calls for it. But we must do so with great care and wisdom.

At the most basic level, the integrative therapist must believe in, cherish, welcome and invite that completely unique intricacy that is hidden under the surface for each client. And if we keep this goal in mind, then we can feel more free to use all of our theories and approaches without making mistakes or stifling the aliveness that is the essence of successful psychotherapy.


“Politically Incorrect” Theories and Approaches

One complaint about the psychoanalytic community in New York City is that there can be an assumption that because certain types of theories or approaches are potentially dangerous in the wrong hands that it is better not to study them at all. (For example, cognitive and behavioral therapy are not fully approved of in many circles, maybe because they require the therapist to challenge certain thoughts or behaviors as opposed to staying in a more exploratory mode.)

Rather than having to avoid the more controversial approaches or feeling “politically incorrect” about secretly using certain of our favorite concepts or techniques, wouldn’t it be preferable to entertain all types of approaches that feel useful to us, as long as we use them responsibly.


Developing An Integrative Sensibility

Lynn Preston and Ellen Shumsky introduce the concept of an “integrative sensibility” and suggest four necessary attitudes: openness, curiosity, “fallibilism”, and a comfort with “complexification”. This latter term refers to our willingness to stay in complexity and to bear the inevitable anxiety and disorientation that “unknowability” can create. Rather than have it be a signal of a problem, that familiar “disoriented” feeling can be a friendly reminder that reality is complex and that we have to take in new information and regroup. Complexity theory does not suggest that we should empty our minds or stay in a place of mental chaos, but that we can expect to follow a kind of rhythm of creating structure, dismantling (to various degrees what we have created), and restructuring.


For a more detailed discussion, visit Psychotherapy Integration: The Attitudes of the Integrative Therapist.