Experiential therapy is a technique that uses expressive activities or tools, such as props, arts and crafts, guided imagery, role-playing, or music, to re-experience or reenact emotional situations from current and past relationships. When focused on activities, the patients begin to identify emotions that can be associated with self-esteem and disappointment. With a trained therapist, a patient can explore these negative feelings, release them, and unblock any feelings. Experiential therapy is a category of therapy instead of one just specific type. There are different kinds to suit the needs of the patient.
This type of therapy is often used when treating substance abuse, along with other trauma. It can be used for those who want to be free of unhappy or painful feelings from past experiences and can help improve the nature of any current and future relationships. It can be used in rehabilitation programs and various treatments in a medical and clinical setting. It is often used with different styles of traditional talk therapy.
Benefits of Experiential Therapy
As patients go through these activities under the leadership of a therapist, there is an opportunity to experience successes, find obstacles, expand self-esteem, and take responsibility for their actions. Some benefits include personal empowerment, emotional growth, and change. Since patients can often be focused on the activity or tasks at hand, rather than the therapeutic aspect, then they are more likely to be unguarded and act more genuine. The patient has the opportunity to identify any behaviors, but a discussion can also take place during or after therapy in order to help the patient discover the feelings. It may not be the primary focus of experiential therapy, but it can also help a patient fill the time. This allows those who normally turn to drugs and alcohol to have different activities and things to focus on during their day.
Different Types of Experiential Therapy
There are different types that can be tried, depending on the patient.
Drama Therapy: This approach uses theater or drama to help an individual. This can include interacting with others or acting out a personal story in a dramatic form.
Music Therapy: This uses music techniques to help inspire positive changes in behavior.
Art Therapy: This is when an individual uses an artistic process, such as sculpting or painting, to develop awareness and reduce any negative experiences.
Poetry Therapy: This involves poetry or literature to help achieve change and personal growth.
Animal Assisted Therapies: These types of therapies use animals, such as horses in equine therapy or the use of dogs, in order to instill positive thoughts.
Experiential therapy is client based and client preferences should be honored. One client may find that animal-assisted therapy helps more, while another may be more interested in drama as a form of expression. The idea behind this is that one perception helps to determine one’s behavior. By re-experiencing and releasing any repressed negative feelings from the past, clients can better focus on positive feelings, such as forgiveness, love and calm, in the present. This can also help change current perceptions.
What to Expect with Experiential Therapy in Recovery
It’s important to note that this is not just one specific form of therapy and there could be many different hands-on therapies that are used, in addition to traditional talk therapy. When participating in these interventions with a therapist, you can gain deeper access to your inner thoughts, interactions with others, and creativity. It helps individuals reflect on their experiences to be able to more comfortably make their own decisions as they move though life. Experiential therapy can be beneficial, but there are times when it shouldn’t be used. This form of therapy should only be used for individuals where it’s appropriate for their maturity level and age, and for those who are physically able to be involved in this form of therapy. Individuals with physical limitations or severe cognitive impairment shouldn’t be involved in this type of therapy.
The Use of Experiential Therapy in Sobriety Management
Many of the different types of experiential therapy are used to help treat substance abuse. It’s important to note that this is not the main form of treatment but is instead used with other options, such as support groups or medically assisted treatment. Research has shown that these types of therapies can help reduce any issues with denial and help give a more positive approach to substance use treatment. Individuals with substances abuse disorders can have trouble relating to people, so equine therapy can help individuals relate better to people by taking care of the horses. Adventure therapies can give individuals an opportunity to develop trust, problem solving skills, and different ways of expressing themselves. The things that these therapies teach individuals allow them to strengthen techniques to continue recovery for years to come.
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