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  • Writer's picturepippa

So what does an integrative therapist do?

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

A woman with a light blue top and heart pendant necklace in a therapy room with a huge Georgian window and cosy sofa area
Pippa in her cosy light-filled therapy room in Exeter

Therapy-speak can be really annoying and unhelpful sometimes. Much as try to avoid it in sessions and on my website, it can find a way to sneak in - and calling myself an integrative therapist in the very first paragraph is a classic example!

What even is an integrative therapist, I hear you cry? Good point. You may have come across terms for how counsellors describe themselves on their profiles: person-centred; CBT; trauma-informed; attachment-focussed; psychodynamic; humanist, arts therapist.... the list is long and wonderfully broad.

You may be specifically looking for a therapist whose training means that they're specialised in a particular approach for how they work with clients (or modality, as it's called in the therapy world). You can use these as search terms on google or directories like Psychology Today when you start looking for a therapist who you feel would suit your needs, to narrow your search.

As I wanted to work with a variety of theories in my client work, I chose a course which would qualify me to use a rich spectrum of psychotherapeutic approaches. My training involved gaining in-depth knowledge and skills application in three 'core' models - person-centred, Gestalt and CBT. I was drawn to the person-centred style of being led by the client (see my post which goes into the client-as-expert theory) but I also love the creativity and experimental nature of Gestalt therapy, which allows me to be very present with my clients and work with what they're bringing in the here-and-now. You've probably heard lots about CBT and it can be profoundly helpful to help challenge negative thoughts and working with issues such as OCD.

Working integratively really means that I'm able to bring a figurative magical box of psychotherapy-based tricks to each session, filled with theories, ideas, interventions, and exercises which I can dip into, if I feel it would help you, the client, with what you're bringing that day.

For example, someone wants to work through a pattern of behaviour which they feel keeps them stuck in unhealthy relationships. As they're taking to me about their experiences, they seem to be very child-like, beseeching me to come up with the answers to help them work out what they're doing wrong. A moment arises when I feel they'd be receptive to some inner child work, so I invite them to do a guided meditation to connect with their inner child. This can be a really powerful way to start showing compassion to a younger part of yourself who is trying to get your attention, but is often shrouded in shame so you push it away.

In other sessions, I may have a client who tells me how he's pushing his partner away and feels he's sabotaging the relationship, but he can't seem to help it - it's a familiar pattern of behaviour but he can't work out why he's doing it. I might use some attachment theory with this client to help him understand that his pattern of relating stems from how he attached to his early caregivers, and give him reassurance that we can change our attachment styles to a more secure attachment. This may be the focus of our work for the next series of sessions.

I also find it can be really valuable to empower my clients with knowledge to understand how their nervous system responses will be affecting their physical health and how they relate to everyone in their lives... whether it's flight, flight, freeze or fawn (people-pleasing is a nervous system response, often originating as parent-pleasing, when as a child you had to find a way to be "good" and acceptable to your parents, at the expense of your own needs). This is where polyvagal theory can shine a light on why you may respond in the way you do and can be another focus of our work.

I hope this helps give a sense of what I do and how I work. It's unfailingly rewarding for me to see the glow of someone who's discovered something about themselves that they always knew deep down but had never been able to articulate before.

If you'd like to know more about anything in this post or to book a free phone consultation, please message me via the contact page.

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