Principles Of Integrative Psychiatry

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Psychiatry isn't a monolith. There are several forms and approaches to psychiatry, including integrative psychiatry. To understand this practice, looking at its principles and the research behind it can be helpful.

Interested in learning more about complementary approaches?

What is integrative psychiatry?

Integrative psychiatry is a holistic form of treatment. In this discipline, clients are looked at as a whole instead of in parts. It can involve conventional methods, such as prescribing medications, but can also involve personalized and complementary support methods. Integrative psychiatry posits different situations where a person may benefit from a unique form of treatment. 

Treatments used

Integrative psychiatry may use different forms of treatment, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Nutritional Counseling: A psychiatrist may work with some clients on a healthy eating and exercise regimen.
  • Lifestyle Counseling: Psychiatrists can teach clients meditation and breathing exercises.
  • Guided Imagery Work: Psychiatrists guide clients in guided imagery. 
  • Bodywork: A psychiatrist may recommend massages and other alternative treatments. 
  • Medication: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe and manage medication for mental health challenges. 

Who can benefit from this practice? 

Individuals who have struggled with traditional psychiatry may benefit from an integrative approach. Anyone with any mental health condition, symptom, or challenge can use this method. However, note that your insurance company may require your provider to make a diagnosis to cover services. 

The principles of integrative psychiatry

Integrative psychiatry was founded on several principles. Although each individual psychiatrist's principles can vary, below are some of the most common. 

Mental health 

This approach does not focus on treating only one's mental illness. If someone is anxious, ridding the person of anxiety isn't the end goal. Instead, the goal is to help individuals achieve mental health and wellness in multiple areas. An integrative approach can prevent future mental health challenges and improve quality of life. 

Healthy relationships  

This methodology may sometimes focus on the healing power of healthy relationships. The professional relationship between the psychiatrist and the client can also be examined to ensure the client perceives sessions as safe and supportive. 

Healthy relationships also refer to the client's relationships outside of psychiatry. In some ways, integrative psychiatry may involve counseling elements. The psychiatrist in this situation isn't there only to offer medical advice and medication but can guide the client in forming long-term skills like a psychologist might. 

Holistic approach

Integrative psychiatry is a holistic approach where the whole is looked at in addition to the body. The body, mind, and environment are considered together in holistic practices. For example, it may not be as beneficial to only work on breathing exercises in treating anxiety. Instead, you can look at how anxiety manifests in your body as physical symptoms, like chronic pain, and how to change your environment, find healthier relationships, and cope with mental challenges. In addition, your psychiatrist might prescribe temporary medication as you go through these processes to ease the physical or severe symptoms. 

Aim toward prevention of psychiatry disorders

Prevention is often considered a vital step in treating mental health challenges. Instead of waiting for a condition to arise, treating symptoms before they progress may be healthiest. Some holistic or integrative providers may believe that living healthily, both physically and mentally, can prevent future symptoms. In addition, a healthy mindset may increase one's resilience, even if challenges arise. 


Some integrative psychologists may believe that people can work to heal symptoms by starting within. Believing one can rely on oneself for many of their needs can reduce some challenges, such as reliance on unhealthy attachment patterns or relationships. 

Integration of complementary treatments and conventional medicine

Integrative psychiatry uses different models of treatment that integrate into one. Conventional psychiatry, which primarily uses diagnosing and medication, can be combined with other forms of treatment, such as mindfulness, massages, art therapy, supplements, and other alternative or untraditional medicine formats. 

Responsibility for self

Another principle is responsibility for one's future. A psychiatrist may not be able to "make you happy" but can guide you as you find what makes you happy. In addition, they may be able to prescribe medication or other medical methods of support as you work through coping skills you learn with them in session.

Honoring individuality

Doctors often group patients with specific symptoms or diagnoses when discussing treatments. However, everyone is different, and this treatment methodology attempts to meet each client where they're at. Someone may react well to medicine, and someone else may respond to talk therapy. Looking at someone's preferences can determine the treatment plan. 

Leading by example

It can be essential for integrative psychiatrists to practice what they recommend to others. For example, if a psychiatrist recommends healthy lifestyle changes, they can model this behavior to their clients. Some integrative psychiatrists model behavior in sessions by practicing new skills with their clients, such as mindfulness. They may guide the client through each exercise and practice it with them, noting the benefits they receive from the practice. 

Opportunity for growth

Some integrative providers may look at each experience through the realm of opportunity for growth. They may help clients learn that challenges can mean an opportunity for a more positive future. 

Myths about integrative psychiatry

A few myths about integrative psychiatry may exist, including the following. It can be helpful to note why these myths aren't true and challenge them when they come up in your life. 

Myth: Integrative psychiatry discourages the use of psychiatric medicine

Because integrative psychiatry uses alternative treatments, one may believe integrative psychiatrists discourage medications for mental illness. However, these providers often treat clients with medication and medical treatments because they are medical doctors. Integrative psychiatry realizes medicines can be valuable but are not the only form of treatment. 

Myth: Assessment only looks at the health of a person

Someone meeting with an integrative psychiatrist may expect the psychiatrist to only look at their lifestyle and family history. However, the integrative psychiatrist may also consider the person's mind, spirit, body, and personal life. A full assessment of one's life is a principle of holism. 

Myth: Clients of integrative psychiatry only receive natural remedies

Holistic or integrative psychiatrists look at each client individually. Some people may benefit from natural remedies, whereas others may benefit from Western medicine. If one method doesn't work, providers can try another treatment. For example, the client may try medicine and meditation together.

Interested in learning more about complementary approaches?

Alternative support options 

Integrative psychiatry looks at mental health from a medical and holistic perspective. However, it isn't the only form of support available. Some people may seek a holistic approach that doesn't involve medication or a therapist to see alongside their psychiatrist. In these cases, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp may be beneficial. 

You can receive integrative care through an online platform by setting your goals upon signing up. Your therapist can work with you to develop a unique and holistic care plan, and you can receive resources such as journaling prompts, worksheets, and group therapy sessions. By offering multiple ways to receive support, online platforms are often flexible and convenient to everyone. 

If you're unsure whether meeting with an online provider would benefit you, you can look at studies backing up this treatment. One review of 17 studies of online therapy found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was often more effective than in-person options in treating depressive disorders.  


Integrative psychiatry takes a holistic approach to mental health treatment. With an integrative psychiatrist, you may receive care focused on multiple areas of health instead of only symptoms or diagnoses. If you want to learn more about mental health treatments available to you, consider reaching out to a provider online or in your area to get started.
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