Sometimes, you learn best by “doing.” Participation in experiential therapy activities is effective for treating and aiding in recovery for certain mental health conditions. This post explains experiential therapy, what it looks like, and who it helps.
Defining Experiential Therapy
Experiential therapy is a hands-on, engaging therapy that can help you to process and cope with various mental health conditions and past trauma. Instead of a traditional “talk therapy,” it involves movements, actions, and activities. Experiential therapy activities range from kayaking to engaging with horses.
Often, critical “aha” moments happen during experiential therapy activities. That’s because having a more physical experience allows for organic moments of self-discovery. You may be able to recognize and address suppressed feelings and emotions that might not come to the surface in a more subdued therapy session.
Experiential therapy allows a therapist to observe you in an activity where therapy isn’t the main focus. For example, if you’re kayaking, your focus is guiding your boat – not therapy. The activity allows the therapist to see you in a real-life setting. After performing experiential therapy activities, the therapist will talk to you about your experience and your actions and behaviors. It can be empowering to identify and process how you handled the situation.
Experiential therapy activities can be beneficial if you’re uncomfortable talking to a therapist in a traditional counseling setting. You also can perform them in addition to talk therapy sessions.
Common Types of Experiential Therapy and Activities
You and your therapist will work together to decide the types of experiential therapy activities that will most benefit you and that you’re most comfortable with. Which activities you do will depend on what may work better for your mental health condition, as well as your personal preferences.
Typically used for treating children, the therapist observes a child’s emotions during playtime. The therapist typically joins the child at their level, using dolls, action figures, puppets, water play, or toy phones to ask the child questions about different feelings and situations. It can help children learn appropriate behaviors and cope with trauma.
You can express thoughts and feelings in a non-verbal way with art. Because art is subjective, there is no right or wrong way to release your subdued feelings in the moment. Art can help to reduce shame, increase empowerment, create self-awareness, reduce stress, and cope with symptoms.
Also known as psychodrama, this is the most common form of experiential therapy. It involves re-enacting or re-creating situations in a safe setting to help you release negative or suppressed emotions involved with the conflict. Drama therapy allows you to learn how to be your best leading role model while gaining new perspectives, learning effective communication, and handling social situations more comfortably.
Creating, listening to, moving to, and singing along to music can be therapeutic. Under the direction of a music therapist, you can explore and learn to cope with your emotions and thoughts associated with mental health, trauma, and addiction.
The care and keeping of animals can be therapeutic. Animal-assisted therapy sessions can include animals like dogs or horses. You may provide care by grooming or feeding an animal. By making a personal connection with a non-judgmental animal, you gain empathy and independence while increasing your stress tolerance and impulse control.
This type of therapy can combine wilderness therapy, adventure therapy, and talk therapy sessions. It may include activities like kayaking and low ropes to help you overcome social and behavioral challenges. By being held accountable for reaching goals and using positive behavior, you can become motivated, improve your communication with others, build trust, and gain self-confidence.
Conditions Experiential Therapy Can Help
Experiential therapy can be effective for various mental health conditions. Therapists can use it alone or in conjunction with other types of therapies. Below are some of the mental health conditions experiential therapy helps.
Trauma survivors can get stuck feeling like they’re reliving or fighting to keep a traumatic experience from happening again. Experiential therapy activities can provide a safe space to release painful emotions and experiences. This type of therapy isn’t limited to the individual. It can involve the whole family.
Those with behavior disorders may act out or display emotional upset in different ways, which can mean having difficulty holding a job or maintaining relationships. Experiential therapy gives you a chance to reflect on your behavior during the activity, making it effective for those with behavioral disorders.
It’s helpful for therapists to join those with eating disorders in their “world” with experiential activities since many patients spend a lot of time searching for external approval. Experiential therapy teaches practical lessons you can internalize, allowing you to learn from others’ experiences.
Those who feel angry are frustrated because they have difficulty expressing their feelings and lack control. Experiential therapy can help you recognize your reactions to people or things that trigger anger in a real-life setting. With practice, you can remain calm and control your emotions without hurting yourself or others.
Overcoming an addiction isn’t simple. You may feel less guarded during experiential therapy. It allows for more accurate patient evaluations for therapists and better mental healing for you.
How Can Experiential Therapy Be Beneficial?
Experiential therapy is an interactive, creative way to accomplish your recovery goals. It can be beneficial for many people, especially those who don’t respond well to or aren’t interested in traditional therapies.
The benefits include:
- Adjustment. One of the most effective ways to take your mind off something is by doing something active. When you’re involved in experiential therapy, it can help take your mind off your stressors and see your experiences in a new light.
- Emotional Development. When a challenge evokes negative feelings and emotions, experiential activities can be an opportunity to sort through it, feel it, understand it, and move on. When you begin to notice triggers and patterns, you may have richer experiences.
- Boost Self-Esteem. Experiential therapy allows for immediate feedback and provides opportunities to step back and reflect. This intentional turning inward can boost your confidence.
- Personal Empowerment. It’s a sign of maturity when you’re able to fail at something new. Experiential therapy activities often involve learning and honing new skills, which can help you feel empowered.
- Connecting Emotions to Past Experiences. By integrating the past with the present, you can overcome unresolved conflicts, enhance your ability to solve problems, and hold yourself accountable for the choices you make.
Experiential Therapy with ILC
Whether it’s difficult for you to express yourself in words, get comfortable opening up, or recognize your triggers, experiential therapy offers many options that can be effective in recovery. Integrative Life Center incorporates experiential therapy activities along with more traditional methods to provide you with a customized treatment plan unique to your recovery journey. Contact ILC today to learn more about experiential therapy at our center and treatment options that may be right for you.