By Sandy Baker
So, What Is Experiential Therapy?
Psychology Today defines experiential therapy as a technique that taps into a client’s self-expression by using activities such as role-playing, music, art, animal care, or different types of recreational activities (hiking, sports, adventure programs, etc.). Through participating in the activities, the client is led by the therapist to “identify emotions associated with success, disappointment, responsibility, and self-esteem” so that the client can eventually explore and let go of negative feelings from past experiences.
In some situations, the goal is to recreate the unique, real experiences you’ve had, allowing you to experience those attitudes and feelings again in a safe environment. In other cases, the goal of experiential treatment is to help you to feel calm, relaxed, and valued while you are in recovery.
Experiential therapy may include things like:
- Recreational therapy
- Art therapy
- Animal-assisted therapy, such as equine therapy
- Music therapy
- Adventure-focused therapy
- Nature-focused therapy
There are many ways for men and women to explore this type of treatment, all with the goal of creating an opportunity for healing that’s different than traditional talk therapy. While experiential therapy cannot replace individual counseling and evidence-based therapy, it can offer a new way to see the world around you and heal your past.
What Occurs During Experiential Therapy That Helps with Addiction?
How can enjoying the presence of animals or spending time in music therapy really help you with your drug and alcohol addiction? The two may not seem related, but there are some key advantages to these types of programs in day-to-day treatment. They include:
- Improving emotional processing: You’ll learn how to handle emotions more fully and with proper methods instead of resorting to the use of drugs and alcohol.
- Enhancing creativity: Expressing yourself in a variety of ways can help you to process thoughts and feelings, but it also helps you to see your sense of worth.
- Providing reflection opportunities: With experiential treatment, you’ll have the opportunity to reflect on your life, past traumas, and future goals. You gain more insight into what’s happened, but you do so on your own terms and at your own pace.
- Building communication skills: Many people will work to regain their ability to communicate properly with others, such as being confident enough to express concerns instead of bottling them up.
- Improving relationship skills: Many forms of experiential therapy focus on improving your ability to maintain relationships, improve them, and create new ones.
Imagine, for example, using nature therapy. During this type of therapy, you’ll hike or spend time outdoors listening to nature. You may do some gardening. You may just need to spend time in a wooded area walking, thinking, and talking. Another example is animal-based therapy. Animals have a very unique ability to help many people to relax and to heal. You can talk to them, embrace them, and develop relationships with them – all teaching you skills you can use in day-to-day life.
Getting the Most from Experiential Therapies for Substance Use Disorder
For men and women with a substance use disorder, the use of experiential therapy can be life-changing. To get the most out of it, work with your counselor to better understand which form is best for your needs. You’ll want to consider the programs available to you at The Ranch at Dove Tree, where we work closely with our clients to create strong opportunities for experiential therapy. Consider a few tips:
- Use experiential therapy as a chance to try something new.
- Embrace the therapy as an opportunity to change your life for the better.
- Challenge yourself with experiences that force you to work with other people, trust others, and to problem-solve until a solution is found.
The more you embrace what therapy can offer to you – both experiential and evidence-based modalities – the more you’ll be empowered to heal and grow stronger in your recovery. The Ranch at Dove Tree’s addiction treatment counselors can help you to find the right type of care for your unique needs and goals.