In recent years, the use of experiential therapies in addiction treatment has grown exponentially. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, experiential therapies provide therapeutic benefits through non-traditional methods. It is not one specific form of treatment, but a number of activities that are designed to evoke subconscious feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. From there, a person can become more aware of their responses to stimuli and use these experiences to better understand their subconscious responses to other situations that evoke similar emotional, physical, or mental responses. It is an excellent opportunity to partake in numerous experiences and explore themes that go beyond the limits of traditional therapy. Experiential therapies as part of a holistic dual-diagnosis treatment approach encourage participants to go beyond talking about their responses to situations and actually observe how they view the world and their role in it.
What are Experiential Therapies?
Experiential therapy is often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy to assist in the recovery process. It is not typically the primary form of therapy a client receives, but the technique can be utilized in numerous capacities. Using tools and activities, clients are able to explore emotional responses to situations through a different experience. Because they are focused on the activity, they respond naturally to stimuli and can examine their responses afterwards. With the help of a therapist, they are guided through difficult emotions and can investigate the impact of those feelings on their past and current experiences. It often helps clients remove blockades and separate themselves from lingering negative emotions that hinder growth or change.
Because it is not one type of therapy, anyone engaging in experiential therapy can expect some sort of hands-on activity. They often involve interacting with others, engaging inner thoughts, and expressing oneself creatively. With the help of a therapist, clients are able to increase their awareness and identify how their perceptions affect the way they interact in specific situations. By continuing to engage in experiential therapies, clients become more comfortable navigating choices and decisions and apply these experiences to other situations in their lives.
Some forms of experiential therapy include:
- Art therapy
- Music therapy
- Playing instruments
- Writing music
- Recording Music
- Animal-assisted therapy
- Equine Therapy
- Use of dogs in therapy sessions
- Adventure therapy
- Rope courses
- Surf therapy
Experiential therapies can be challenging, but they can also be fun and rewarding. It is not uncommon for those in recovery to develop new interests and hobbies as a result. Experiential therapy provides a healthy outlet for many and an opportunity to connect with others by overcoming something together.
The Effectiveness of Experience
Recovery is a highly individualized experience. Some forms of therapy may be more effective than others depending on an individual’s needs. Because not all forms of therapy provide the same outcomes for different people, using different approaches to discover what works best enhances the recovery experience. For some, a more hands-on approach to recovery is more impactful than traditional forms of treatment. A more movement-oriented form of treatment can engage a person physically, mentally, and emotionally, promoting growth and development.
Experiential therapy can help clients get out of their heads. Instead of overanalyzing information and trying to process it in their minds, experiential therapy encourages participants to become more physically present. Instead, they respond to experience naturally, following their subconscious through those moments. The activities they engage in serve as metaphors, allowing them to project subconscious thoughts and feelings into separate situations. From there, it is easier to dissect and understand because it is separated from the experiences that normally trigger those thoughts and feelings. It can help dislodge thoughts or behaviors that become rigid and stuck, allowing them to start moving forward rather than stay spinning in place in a wheel.
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