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The Simplest Definition of Integral Psychotherapy

October 16, 2014

Mark Forman, PhD

The field of Integral Psychotherapy is young and in the process of defining itself. In that way, it is good to return to the question again and again: What is Integral Psychotherapy?

If we want to start with a theoretical definition that stays fully in line with the Integral model, we can begin with this:

Integral Psychotherapy is a psychotherapy that is AQAL. It attends to all-quadrants, all-levels, all-lines, all-states, and all-types as they show up in the client’s life as well as in the therapeutic space.

I believe that any therapy that attends to AQAL – in the very many ways that can be done – qualifies as an Integral Therapy. The only limitation with this definition is that to understand what this means in practice requires a solid background in Integral Theory and the ability to see how the five elements – quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types – show up in real persons, in real time. This is a very achievable goal, but it does take familiarity, study, and training (this is the training we provide in the CIT program).

Because of this, I don’t always use this definition of Integral Psychotherapy when there is not time to unpack it or when it is likely to come across as too abstract (it often will).

So the challenge has been to find a more grounded, accessible, and simpler definition. For this purpose, I have come up with the following. While it lacks the theoretical precision of the above, I think it gets at the essential heart of what we are trying to do.

Some problems were created in relationship and can only be healed in relationship.

Some problems are spiritual and can only be healed through spiritual means.

Some problems are caused by action and can only be healed through action.

Integral Psychotherapy attends to relationships, spirituality, and action – and will take you in whatever direction you need to go.

First, by relationship we mean the forces of family, romantic partners, and culture. Solving problems in relationships means that we help clients to more fully engage their interpersonal and relational worlds – by encouraging them to both grieve interpersonal hurts from the past and to proactively seek to love and connect with those who are willing and capable of loving them in the present. In addition, we recognize that many issues that are too painful to hold in daily life are best held in the healing relationship of therapy itself.

This tenet of Integral Psychotherapy recognizes the dimension of the other and our intrinsic connectedness to others.

Second, by spiritual we mean the deepest interiors of who we are, particularly our deepest existential issues and beliefs about ourselves and the world. At each phase of life, core feelings of longing, hope, and fear re-express themselves. In Integral Psychotherapy, we help clients to address these core existential issues in a way that matches their life stage and psychospiritual capacity. We help people learn to be at peace with themselves, within themselves.

This tenet of Integral Psychotherapy recognizes the dimension of the self and our innate individuality.

Finally, by action we mean the impact of the world and its forces upon us. The forces many be social, economic, related to the natural environment, or coming from our own biology. Whatever the genesis of these forces, there are times we have to act, to move, and to “do” in response to them. We cannot be passive bystanders or fear taking steps, but must discern the correct path and be willing to risk changing our behavior – and not just our thinking – if we want our lives to improve.

This tenet of Integral Psychotherapy recognizes the dimension of the world and the outer reality in which we live.    

Addressing the client in their relationships, in their individuality, and in the world – while denigrating nothing and leaving nothing out. Integral Psychotherapy understands that each of these dimensions is essential and indispensible to us if we are going to live a full and satisfying life.

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