If you suffer from anxiety, you will know that this feeling of apprehension and constant anguish is not merely psychological, it is also expressed physically. Shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, nausea or dizziness are the signals that your body sends to tell you that you are not safe. At the same time, your mind races making you think that you are in danger.
Anxiety is a very physical experience. You have to relax yourself to calm that fight-flight response, but at the same time you need to manage out-of-control thoughts and learn to deal with anxiety-provoking situations without losing your cool. Like most mental disorders, anxiety is a complex and multi-determined condition that demands comprehensive therapeutic intervention.
It is not enough to change thoughts or behaviors. Nor is it enough to learn relaxation or stress management techniques, to cure anxiety a 360-degree approach is needed that puts the person at the center. That is precisely the solution proposed by integrative therapy.
Integrate and personalize, the keys to a more holistic psychotherapy
The word psychotherapy comes from the Greek words psyché, which means spirit, soul, or being, and therapeia which means service, while therápon was the servant, the one who took care. Etymologically, psychotherapy means caring for or assisting the spirit or “being”. Therefore, you must go well beyond the disorder to pay attention to the person.
Integrative therapy proposes exactly that: to provide a tailored treatment for each person, taking into account their uniqueness and not just the psychological disorder they suffer from
The integrative psychotherapy model differs from the eclectic proposals in that it does not use psychological techniques in isolation, but starts from a holistic conception of the human being, which gives meaning and coherence to the elements as a whole. Integrative psychotherapy collects the most effective scientific methods and clinical strategies from the different schools of psychotherapy to create a truly tailor-made treatment for each person.
This perspective recognizes the limits of using traditional psychotherapeutic approaches on an individual basis and broadens the way therapists conceptualize and approach their patients’ problems. It also admits that there is no one form of psychotherapy that is right for everyone and that the psychologist has to delve into the unique characteristics of the person in front of him without forgetting that he is part of a larger social context.
Integrative psychotherapy provides a double benefit: it provides therapists with more psychological tools and offers people a more personalized treatment that ends up being more effective in solving their problems, promoting their well-being and improving their quality of life in a broader sense.
How does integrative psychotherapy for anxiety work?
In multidimensional integrative psychotherapy, anxiety is addressed through different stages:
1. Exploration phase, in which the psychologist tries to understand the life history of the person and the way in which the anxiety disorder developed. An investigative work is carried out to explore the iceberg that lies beneath the most obvious symptoms. It does not pigeonhole the person in a diagnostic label, but therapeutic goals are established and a climate of understanding is generated.
2. Psychodynamic phase, in which an attempt is made for the person to have insight into the irrationality of certain behaviors and the possible use of defense mechanisms or other mental processes of an unconscious nature that feed anxiety. The therapist can also use narrative therapy techniques to explore how, when, and where anxiety is triggered and what effects it has on the person and their relationships.
3. Behavioral phase focused on developing skills to deal with anxiety, which usually includes everything from systematic desensitization techniques to modify the conditioned response to anxiogenic stimuli, to the thought detection technique to stop irrational ideas or cognitive restructuring to replace unhelpful beliefs with more adaptive ones. Obviously, the therapist is free to choose the most effective techniques for his patient.
4. Strategic and follow-up phase, in which the use of coping skills acquired in anxiety-producing situations of daily life is promoted to reinforce security and self-confidence. In this way, the therapist manages to reinforce adaptive behaviors and thoughts, avoiding relapses and causing real change in the long term.
Obviously, these stages of multidimensional integrative psychotherapy are not written in stone, but are dynamic and must be adapted to the needs and characteristics of the person. The most important thing in this approach is that the therapist manages to broaden his patient’s vision of the world by generating alternative explanations that allow him to flex, structure, give meaning to his experience and reconceptualize his perception of the situations that generate anxiety.
It must strive to promote a process of creating new constructs to give a new meaning to the situations experienced and offer a more appropriate response to the specific situation, since it is based on the idea that we are active builders of our reality.
Integrative psychotherapy for anxiety not only takes into account the cognitive dimension (anxiogenic thoughts) and affective (the emotional reactions it generates) but also the behavioral, psychodynamic and relational dimensions, as well as their implications on a physical level. All of this allows for a more complex and effective approach in a climate of trust and support.
A more promising path to treat people with anxiety
Integrative psychotherapy unites the best of various psychological schools, so it is not surprising that it is an effective therapeutic approach to treat anxiety. A study carried out at Alzahra University, for example, found that integrative psychotherapy “Was more effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety than cognitive-behavioral therapy”, which used to be the treatment that provided the best results.
Another investigation carried out at the Pennsylvania State University found that integrative psychotherapy significantly decreased the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in 76.5% of the participants, maintaining its benefits up to 1 year after treatment, effects that exceeded other psychotherapeutic approaches applied individually.
Researchers from the Universidad Iberoamericana also revealed that multidimensional integrative therapy is beneficial for 80.6% of people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, compared to the efficacy of only 34.4% that achieved the pharmacological treatment, and is very effective to address panic attacks.
One of the keys to the effectiveness of this type of treatment for anxiety consists in the integration of the techniques and methods of Solution-Focused Therapy and Brief Strategic Therapy. As a result, psychologists see therapy as a path that has to be as short as possible, that has to be adapted to the patient and not the patient to the theoretical model, maintaining efficacy as a guiding principle.
Through integrative psychotherapy are revealed the processes that underlie anxiety, always keeping in mind that each person is different and expresses their anxiety in a different way. In this way, it is possible to reduce the prominence of anxiety so that the person regains control of his life and achieves holistic development that allows him to function to the maximum of his potential.
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