Integral psychotherapy is redefining psycho/spiritual/physical healing in the 21st century

In General by Dr. Keith Witt


Integral theory is a meta-theory that creates a scaffolding within which all other theories are organized. Integral psychotherapy is any therapy that takes into account a global understanding of the Kosmos. Objective/subjective, individual/collective, states of consciousness, lines of development, stages of development, spiritual/temporal, and types of individuals are core dimensions of Integral understanding. Any healing approach that practically utilizes these perspectives as cross-validating, mutually influencing forces is by definition Integral psychotherapy.

The 20th century ushered in the birth and diversification of psychotherapy as a healing discipline. Freud's talking cure took root and blossomed into a thousand offshoots. EMDR, psychoanalysis, CBT, DBT, ADEP, behavior therapy, Internal Family Systems, Gestalt, somatic therapies...the list is endless.

In keeping with the increasing cross-paradigmatic approaches of the 21st century, social, medical, and neurobiological research have demonstrated how our bodies, brains, genetic predispositions, and developmental experiences heavily influence every aspect of our lives, including, relationships, moods, psychopathology, and temperaments.

As the volume of knowledge and research has radically expanded, we've also seen the proliferation of coaching and consulting in every area of human functioning, generating schools, certification programs, and a vast market for experts to help individuals, couples, and businesses grow and be successful. Billions of dollars are spent yearly in these fields, experts have proliferated, societies have been formed, and certifications--legal and private--have multiplied, and now we have the inevitable problems that arise when humans feel competition from other humans.

Our genetic social programming drives us to instinctively strive for positions on personally important hierarchies. We protect those positions when we feel threatened. Practitioners--especially experts and founders--get protective of their turf when other approaches or practitioners arise. Sometimes they resist new approaches through genuine conviction that their systems are superior, sometimes they seemingly resist more to protect financial and professional interests than to benefit clients.

Almost every lecture I heard from an advocate of an approach in the first thirty years of my professional life had some element of trashing other systems. Psychoanalysts trashed behaviorists, behaviorists trashed psychoanalysts, Jungians trashed Freudians, Humanists trashed cognitive behaviorists, and so on ad nauseam.

Every field, including psychotherapy, medicine, pharmaceuticals, consulting, and coaching, has entrenched interests--status, money, and just resistance to change often being the drivers, and frequently reflected in licensing standards and insurance payments. This often results in artificial distinctions that have little validity in the effectiveness of treatment in real life, not to mention limitations in how practitioners can help people heal and grow. For instance, there are multiple psychotherapy licenses in California--including psychologist, licensed therapist, licensed clinical social worker, and marriage and family therapist--who have different degree and licensing requirements and practically no differences whatsoever in how they can legally help people. There is also no research (that I'm aware of) showing any of these licenses being of more or less benefit to clients.

Since regulations tend to use least common denominator thinking and are influenced by special interests, licenses also can limit therapists' effectiveness. One example is that information psychotherapists can offer clients that potentially helps them enormously--such as special knowledge about psychotropic medications--has to be delicately implied rather than explicitly stated since advice about physical ailments and medications are often the exclusive legal purvey of medical practitioners, not psychotherapists who deal with these issues daily. This doesn't serve clients, it serves special interests.

Integral psychology provides an alternative to all this divisiveness. Integral doesn't privilege any healing form, but includes them all. Integral psychotherapists aren't expected to have expertise in everything--nobody could--but they do have global understandings of health, love, spirituality, and development that keep them alert to the potential benefits of any treatment individually or collectively. Integral psychotherapists are aware that many rules--for instance, "Don't give advice," or "Don't make value judgments with clients,"--are generally useful but have countless situational exceptions.

I'll write much more about the endless facets and nuances of these forces in blogs to come, but, for now, this is partly how Integral psychotherapy is redefining psycho/spiritual/physical healing in the 21st century.


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