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What is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is a newer approach that allows patients to work through mental or emotional struggles using activities such as art and music.

What is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is a newer therapeutic approach that utilizes various activities, interventions, and techniques to help patients work through past emotional and mental struggles or trauma. Activities like crafts, music, sports, animal care, and role-playing can assist patients in identifying and working through emotions that are associated with whatever may be troubling them, like stress, self-esteem worries, substance abuse problems, or mental health struggles. Then, they’ll be able to develop coping mechanisms in order to explore and release these potentially harmful feelings. 

Experiential Therapy

How Does Experiential Therapy Work?

Experiential therapy is most often used for patients dealing with trauma, substance abuse disorders, mental health illnesses, or grief. It works by allowing the individual to work through and process their feelings in a healthy manner, alongside doing activities that can help alleviate stress and create a positive emotional outlook. Art and music therapy are some of the most common methods, but physical activities and animal care work is growing in popularity as well. 1

Types of Experiential Therapy

There are various types of experiential therapy programs, each of which work to help patients in a multitude of ways. Experiential therapy techniques will be integrated into each session. Some of the most common types of experiential therapy include: 2

  • Drama Therapy: This is the most common type of experiential therapy and involves re-creating traumatic situations in a safe environment in order to work through emotions
  • Music Therapy: This type of therapy uses music to create and foster positive changes in mood and outlook.
  • Art Therapy: Art therapy works to utilize creative processes, like drawing or painting, to work through conflicts or negative emotions.
  • Play Therapy: Most commonly used with children, this activity allows patients to “play” through issues they may not be willing or able to talk through.
  • Outdoor Therapy: This type of therapy involves wilderness or adventure activities and has been used as experiential therapy for teens in many cases.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy: Studies have shown that working with and taking care of animals has proven beneficial as a therapeutic technique in many ways.

The various types of experiential therapy can offer different benefits; by curating a specialized treatment plan, individuals can find wellness opportunities most suited to their needs.

What Does Experiential Therapy Treat?

Experiential counseling has proven effective for a multitude of issues. Some of these include: 

  • Addiction and substance abuse disorders
  • Dual diagnosis
  • Trauma
  • Family conflict and communication issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Adolescent behavioral problems

Which Type of Experiential Therapy is Most Beneficial?

Not everyone will respond to certain types of experiential therapy the same, meaning that it’s important for medical professionals to work with the patient and create a treatment plan that will help foster success. For example, experiential family therapy may not work for every member of the unit, creating dissonance within the group. The therapist will then try out different types of experiential therapy, depending on what the family needs. Varying techniques may be employed throughout each session, like painting or music therapy activities. 3

Therapists will help patients focus on their own feelings, perceptions, and overall awareness of past traumatic events and work through them in a healthy manner. The “hands-on” approach works for many patients when talk therapy has previously failed.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy

There are multiple benefits of utilizing an experiential therapy program. Experiential therapy can be used one-on-one with a patient, or many sessions utilize experiential group therapy activities with multiple patients or family members in order to help. 

As mentioned above, it is also useful for those that talk therapy was not beneficial, as it focuses on creating and experiencing instead of speaking. Talk therapy, while helpful for many, doesn’t work for everyone, potentially due to trauma, emotional or behavioral issues, or the various ways in which people process information. 4

Additional Benefits

Other benefits of experiential therapy include:

  • Situational Resolution: This allows patients to re-create or work through past situations and find resolve.
  • Emotional Processing: Patients are able to utilize a “hands-on” approach to work through and process emotions that may be hindering them.
  • Reduced Avoidance: Experiential therapy can aid individuals in creating coping tactics so they don’t avoid or push down feelings that could be harming them.
  • Altered Perspectives: Experiential therapy can also help patients change their perspective on issues that could still be traumatic or painful.
  • Creative Expression: Many techniques allow patients to express themselves in new and creative ways.

Is Experiential Therapy Right For You?

Figuring out if experiential therapy, or experiential circumstances, are right for you can be difficult, but working alongside your therapist or a medical professional can help. Experiential therapy for teens has been used for adolescents who have shown signs of behavioral or emotional troubles, which has often been helped with outdoor therapy.

Symbolic experiential family therapy, used for families that struggle within the unit or are experiencing hardships outside the unit, focuses on personal growth and symbolic experiences. 5

Experiential Therapy Activities

When to Pursue Experiential Therapy

While those types of experiential therapy may work for adolescents and families, there are a multitude of other reasons why it may be beneficial for you as well. These include if you or a loved one have:

  • Experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in the past
  • Have a dual diagnosis, such as anxiety or depression, alongside an alcohol or substance abuse disorder
  • Feel uncomfortable talking about and through their past experiences
  • Have trouble expressing thoughts and feelings without getting angry, frustrated, or shutting down
  • Show happiness and excitement when animals, art, or music are a part of their recovery process

Experiential Therapy at Genesis Recovery

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health struggles, a family dispute, or a substance abuse disorder, we’re able to help. We have therapists who are specialized in experiential therapy techniques, such as music therapy and art therapy. They can work with you or your family in order to foster creativity and spirituality, as well as work through past issues or trauma that you may be going through.

Contact us today if you’re ready to start experiential therapy, and we’ll be with you every step of the way through recovery.


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