To be successful, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction requires a combination of different kinds of therapy. One therapeutic approach often included in an individual’s treatment plan is experiential therapy. Many different techniques and forms of therapy involving actions or activities make up the broad category of experiential therapy.
Experiential Therapy Explained
Experiential therapy is not a single type of therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychotherapy. Instead, it is a collection of therapeutic methods designed to have the person focus on their involvement in different kinds of experiences. As the person takes part in activities like animal care, art, music, and role-playing, they can, with the therapist’s guidance, access emotions they cannot put into words. Then they can identify, work through, and move past the negative emotions.
Experiential therapy aims to help the individual:
- Increase their awareness of how they perceive the world
- Develop personal insight
- Build connections to their feelings, thoughts, and experiences
- Learn about their needs and how to attend to them
- Develop the necessary skills to address their problems
7 Benefits of Experiential Therapy
- A More Natural Setting: Some people feel uncomfortable in a traditional therapy office. An experiential therapy session can take place in many different settings, such as a horse stable, a rock climbing wall, a low rope course, or an art studio. As the person focuses on the assigned activity or task, they relax and let down their defenses. This allows for a more genuine and fruitful conversation with the therapist.
- Resolution of Past Conflicts: Experiential therapy helps people resolve trauma and negative emotions from their past. It helps them learn new problem-solving skills and techniques.
- Improved Self-awareness: In active addiction, people withdraw, shutting out everything so they can focus solely on getting and using drugs or alcohol. They lose their self-awareness and are often unaware of what is going on around them. Experiential therapy provides them with the opportunity to become more attuned to themselves and their environment. As their self-awareness returns, they also become aware of their emotions, needs, and desires. When problems arise, they learn how to manage them in a healthy way.
- Ability to be Proactive: People in active addiction react to what is happening around them. They are reactive instead of proactive. The focus of experiential therapy is learning and understanding how the choices and decisions a person makes affect the outcome. The aim of experiential therapy is to build proactive problem-solving and coping skills so the individual can handle difficult situations in the future.
- Healthier Relationships: Participating in experiential therapy helps individuals identify negative patterns in relationships. It helps them learn how to communicate effectively with others and build healthy relationships.
- Higher Self-esteem: In active addiction, most people have very low self-esteem. They may feel like failures. When given a task they can do successfully, they feel good. They begin to feel better about themselves. With time, their self-esteem returns.
- Discovering a New Hobby: Experiential therapies give people the chance to discover new activities. They may find a new hobby they can enjoy while sober. It is important for people in recovery to find healthy activities they enjoy to occupy the time once filled by searching for, getting, and using drugs or alcohol.
Types Experiential Therapy
Several of the more popular experiential therapies include equine-assisted or canine-assisted therapies, guided imagery, creative arts therapy, psychodrama, music therapy, role-play, adventure therapy, and meditation. Art-based experiential therapies include activities such as drawing, painting, dancing, sculpting, crafting, playing or listening to music, creative writing, and poetry. Adventure therapies include activities such as, camping, wilderness therapy, rope courses, excursions, sports, rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, and swimming.
Additional experiential therapies include:
- Play therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
- Trauma-informed yoga therapy
- Stage performance
- Narrative therapy
Do You Struggle with Addiction?
Are you or a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder? Our skilled professionals at English Mountain Recovery can help. Located in the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee, our program offers experiential therapies, including an equine interaction experience, recreation therapy, adventure therapy, and creative arts therapy. Take the first step to living a sober life. Call English Mountain to find out about gender-specific programs tailored to your needs.