Integral psychotherapy (IP) proposes that all insights on life contain partial truths and that weaving together a range of cultural, psychological, socioeconomic, biological, spiritual, and behavioral perspectives can offer hope for healing, increased mindfulness, and social and cultural evolution. IP draws from several theoretical orientations, leaning heavily on theories of transpersonal psychology.
Integral psychology was created by philosopher Ken Wilber. Wilber dropped out of college to create his own curriculum and write books on spirituality and psychology. Drawing upon transpersonal psychology, which blends spiritual experiences with mainstream psychology, Wilber developed his theory of integral psychotherapy.
In 1997, Wilber created the Integral Institute, a nonprofit organization that uses IP to address a range of social and interpersonal issues while forming an educational community of people interested in integral psychotherapy. Wilber also helped found the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, which publishes research on integral theory and psychology. A prolific writer, Wilber has published many self-help manuals and lectured on integral theory for decades.
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Proponents of integral psychotherapy believe all human knowledge and experience can be plotted on a four-quadrant grid. Wilber terms this theory “AQAL.”
The AQAL grid outlines levels of development, proceeding from prepersonal development to transpersonal experience. The grid depicts lines of development, states of consciousness, and “types,” a category for phenomena that don’t fit neatly into the four quadrants of the grid. The four quadrants are:
- Upper left: Individual, interior, and intentional orientations such as Freud’s psychoanalytic theory
- Upper right: Individualistic, exterior, behavioral orientations such as Skinner’s behaviorism
- Lower left: An interior, collectivist, and culturally-oriented approach
- Lower right: An exterior, collectivist, and socially-oriented approach
Integral psychologists teach that all human experience can fit into five elements. These elements are levels, lines, states, types, and quadrants.
Blending insights from psychology with elements of New Age philosophy and spirituality, integral psychotherapy is an overarching philosophy, not just a type of therapy. Therefore, not all practitioners of integral psychotherapy are therapists.
Integral psychotherapy draws heavily on the transpersonal psychology notion that everybody is unique. Practitioners may tailor their approach to the needs, beliefs, and cultural contexts of the people they work with by drawing upon mainstream psychotherapy traditions, including:
- Relational psychoanalysis
- Jungian psychology
- Integral theory
- Play therapy
- Developmental theory
- Neuroscientific research
- Existential psychology
Integral psychotherapists also draw upon various spiritual and New Age traditions, sometimes incorporating elements of art, literature, and philosophy. Those who practice integral psychotherapy tend to see it as a method of nonjudgmental guidance that helps people move through levels of consciousness and development, cultivate insight, and learn from their struggles.
Practitioners of integral psychology believe life provides constant opportunities for evolution and growth, resulting in awareness and connection that can deepen an individual’s sense of meaning. Often, their goal is to help people learn from suffering rather than escape it.
Because integral psychotherapy is a broad philosophy, anyone may choose to practice it—even without formal mental health training.
The Certified Integral Therapist training program offers training to therapists, life coaches, and other mental health professionals. The program does not require any formal mental health credentials. Level one of the program provides a broad overview and is available online, while level two is more comprehensive, requiring one-on-one training and self-analysis.
The program uses four modules:
- Module one highlights the foundations of integral psychotherapy, including the four grid quadrants.
- Module two focuses on interventions and assessments at various developmental levels.
- Module three analyzes specific states, including traumatic and spiritual states.
- Module four focuses on sexuality, diversity, and types.
Integral psychotherapy is a broad New Age philosophy, not a targeted treatment for any specific mental health issue. Practitioners have used it to address a variety of issues, including trauma, lack of self-esteem, and relationship concerns.
Although psychotherapists can use integral theory, its use is not limited to mental health practitioners. Many proponents of the theory rely on web-based support groups, self-help publications, and various community organizations to learn about and practice integral psychotherapy.
Because integral psychotherapy is a generalized philosophy and not a specific program of treatment, research into its effectiveness is almost exclusively limited to publications created by integral theory proponents.
Stanislav Grof, one of the founders of transpersonal psychology, states that Wilber's style of expression in his works can be perceived as aggressive, detracting from constructive discourse. Grof has expressed concern that Wilber omits prenatal and perinatal consciousness from his analyses.
Wilber studied pre-medicine at Duke University and the University of Nebraska, but has no formal medical or psychological training. Wilber’s approach does not offer specific protocols for mental health treatment, leaving practitioners to draw from general philosophies and their own clinical experience.
- Brussat, K. & Brussat, M.A. (n.d.). Living spiritual teachers project: Ken Wilber. Spirituality and Practice. Retrieved from http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/explorations/teachers/view/139
- Grof, S. (2008, January 1). A brief history of transpersonal psychology. California Institute of Integral Studies. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.ciis.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1182&context=ijts-transpersonalstudies
- Integral life. (2017). Retrieved from https://integrallife.com
- Integral psychotherapy. (n.d.). CIT Certified Integral Therapist. Retrieved from https://citintegral.com/integral-psychotherapy
- Kazlev, M.A. (2009, December 9). The Wilberian-inspired integral community (or the “Integral movement). Retrieved from http://www.kheper.net/topics/Wilber/integral.html
- Our philosophy. (n.d.). Integral Psychotherapy and Family Counseling, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.integral-therapy.com/philosophy