Experiential Therapy

You know what they say about all work and no play. Recovering from addiction is a lot of work. Daily program schedules are packed with treatments like individual therapy, group therapy, psychoeducation, and relapse prevention training. But here at The Ranch at Dove Tree, we know that the best treatment programs address the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. We believe that experiential therapy can be a highly effective–and often playful and fun–way to improve health in ways that traditional therapy cannot. 

What is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is 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 (Psychology Today).

Not every client responds easily to traditional talk therapy. Some clients find it very difficult to talk about themselves, to reveal emotion, and to find the words to articulate their feelings and experiences. While talk therapy is still valuable for these clients, it can be immensely helpful to complement talk therapy with the action and immersion of experiential therapy. When a person is thoroughly engaged in an activity they find stimulating and enjoyable, they can often talk more freely and easily about the emotions that arise during the process. With a therapist’s help, they can then explore the origin of those feelings and work to resolve them. 

Experiential therapy may include things like:

  • Psychodrama – also called drama therapy, psychodrama is the most common type of experiential therapy and “involves re-enacting or re-creating conflictual situations in a safe setting,” allowing the client to access emotions associated with those situations and talk through them with the therapist 
  • Outdoor therapy – this combines outdoor experiences, like hikes or ropes courses, with therapy
  • Art therapy – using activities like painting, drawing, or sculpting to develop self-awareness and express emotions that are otherwise hard to talk about
  • Animal-assisted therapy – interacting with animals and caring for them as a way to learn more about oneself 

Music, nature, creative writing, and group games can also be used in experiential therapy. With all types of experiential therapy, the goal is to create an opportunity for healing. While experiential therapy cannot replace individual and group counseling, it can offer a new way to see the world around you and heal your past.

How Can Experiential Therapy Help with Addiction?

How can enjoying the presence of animals or spending time painting 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 addiction treatment. They include:

  • Improving emotional processing: You’ll learn how to handle emotions in healthy ways instead of resorting to the use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Enhancing creativity: Expressing yourself in a variety of ways can help you process thoughts and feelings, but it also helps you develop a sense of self-worth. You may even discover a skill or hobby that you can continue doing on your own after treatment ends.
  • 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 on your own terms and at your own pace.
  • Building communication skills: Experiential therapy can help you communicate more effectively with others and be confident about expressing concerns and setting boundaries
  • Improving relationship skills: Many forms of experiential therapy that involve working with others will help improve your ability to develop and maintain relationships–some of which may continue after you leave treatment.

What Types of Experiential Therapy are Used at The Ranch at Dove Tree?

Our beautiful campus in west Texas offers many opportunities for experiential therapy, both formal and informal. We are especially excited about our equine therapy program. Equine therapy is a form of experiential therapy in which our clients work with horses. Rather than riding horses, you’ll learn to care for them and communicate with them, and in the process you’ll find yourself feeling and remembering things from your life that provide rich material for therapy. 

You’ll also develop a relationship with the horse and learn how your emotions and moods can affect your relationships with yourself and others. You’ll develop confidence and self-esteem as you get better and better at relating to the horse and providing it with the attention and care it needs. 

Even if you never spend time with a horse again after your time with us ends, you’ll have learned skills that you can apply to your life at home and at work. You’ll be better able to “read” people and to respond to them with sensitivity and understanding. You’ll have a better knowledge of your own moods and how you tend to react. You’ll feel empowered to care for others because you’ve had success in caring for a horse. 

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, you’ll work with our counselors to decide which form is best for your needs. If you’re still feeling unsure about experiential therapy, consider the following 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 will help you get the most out of your experience with us.