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What is Experiential Family Therapy?

A male hugging a female on a family group therapy whi.e the other members including the therapist are clapping their hands and cheering for them

When people think of therapy, talk therapy is often the first thing that comes to mind. On the other hand, experiential therapy involves immersing yourself in a more physical experience through movement, action, and activity. So what is experiential family therapy, and how can it help you and your loved ones? This post explains.

What is Experiential Family Therapy?

Experiential therapy involves occupying yourself with a specific activity. Engaging your body in some form of action allows you to explore more psychologically than you might in a traditional talk therapy setting. This therapeutic approach allows a therapist to see your actions and emotions while participating in new activities in a real-life manner. 

Mental health professionals use experiential therapy to treat conditions including: 

  • Addiction
  • Trauma
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Eating disorders
  • Anger issues
  • Relationship problems
  • Grief and loss

Experiential therapy is a particularly useful form of family therapy. It requires family members to address hidden or subconscious issues overtly through role-playing, artistic expression, guided imagery, or other activities.

Common Causes of Family Conflict

Experiential family therapy can help families work through conflict. Families are often uncomfortable with addressing conflict at all. But this discomfort doesn’t mean there is a lack of love within the family.

You can experience conflict in any relationship, including those with partners, parents, siblings, and children. 

Relationships experience changes. These changes can cause conflict as they each present new stresses and challenges.

Challenges families experience include:

  • Living as a new couple
  • Having a child 
  • A child starting school
  • Children growing up
  • Separation or divorce
  • Moving
  • Changes in financial circumstances
  • Differences in values
  • Addiction in the family
  • Death

Every family goes through many of these challenges. Any of them can become a source of conflict. If unaddressed, these challenges lead to more significant struggles within the family.

 Two female family member embrace in a comforting hug. They are having a group therapy session

Effects of Conflict

Family conflict can create greater rifts and psychological changes if they go unmanaged. These issues also can pass from one generation to the next if left unresolved.

Negative effects of conflict include:

  • Strained relationships
  • Exaggerated strengths and weaknesses
  • Mental and physical health issues
  • Repeated patterns and conversations
  • Dehumanizing others

Experiential therapy helps families address conflict in real-time through some form of activity. The added action allows family members to open up in new ways. 

Types of Experiential Family Therapy

Experiential therapy comes in many forms. A therapist can help you with which experience best suits your family.

Types of experiential family therapy include:

  • Psychodrama. Also called “drama therapy,” psychodrama is the most common form of experiential therapy. You recreate conflict situations using drama exercises and actions in a safe setting.
  • Role-Playing. Role-playing is a form of psychodrama in which you reenact a particular life experience, reversing roles or revisiting personal points of view.
  • Puppets. Another avenue of psychodrama, using puppets to revisit sources of conflict, allows you to remove yourself from the story and look at it through a new lens.
  • Guided Imagery. Guided imagery is a form of meditation led by a storyteller. 

Other forms of experiential family therapy include kayaking, ropes courses, interacting with horses, sweat lodge sessions, art, and play.

How Integrative Life Center Can Help

Participating in experiential therapy activities can be a great addition to your regular talk therapy sessions. By including actions in your recovery, you can overcome deep-seated conflict, learn to build healthier relationships, and enhance your family’s ability to solve conflict on your own.

If you face any family conflict or any of the conditions listed above, reach out to Integrative Life Center for experiential therapy treatment options.

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