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Experiential Therapy

Authored by Julia Smith

Experiential therapy is a treatment method that couples bodily movement and activity with the insight of talk therapy. It’s used in a variety of ways, including recreation, equine, art, music, wilderness, and adventure therapy.

How Does Experiential Therapy Work?

A fundamental aspect of experiential therapy is its hands-on nature. Through the guidance of a therapist, participants are instructed to perform certain interventions – these might include role-playing, guided imagery, dancing, exercise, arts and crafts and more. These interventions work by allowing people to re-experience difficult memories or process their life challenges while engaging in a positive activity. Experiential therapy also allows participants to open up to therapists without some of the inhibitions they might have in a more traditional setting.

Experiential therapy is so effective, in part, because of the way we learn. Our brains are designed to better acquire new skills and knowledge when they have two forms of input. Experiential therapy provides the ability to communicate through challenges and obstacles with the added benefit of a sensory element. Someone who sees a therapist to help with a specific phobia, for example, might intentionally experience their triggering stimulus in a controlled environment with a therapist while talking through what they’re experiencing.

Another benefit of this approach is the discovery of new coping strategies. If you’ve seen a therapist, you’ve likely had a discussion about what coping mechanisms you use to deal with difficult emotions. By actually engaging in new activities instead of just talking about them, participants in experiential therapy have the opportunity to add to their toolbox and be better equipped to handle situational struggles in the future.

What is Experiential Therapy Used For?

Experiential therapy is effective in treating:  

  • Substance abuse
  • Addiction
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief and loss
  • Trauma
  • Gambling addiction
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression

Experiential Therapy for Teens and Young Adults

It’s common for teens and young adults struggling with any of the above difficulties to turn inward and allow their thoughts to tear them down. Experiential therapy is especially useful in this case, because it gives young people the opportunity to step outside of those thoughts and use their bodies to communicate what they feel they can’t with language. One example of this is the healing that occurs through the silent compassion of equine therapy for a teen or young adult who has experienced trauma.

Studies have shown that learning a new skill or gaining a new hobby can actually improve brain health. In this way, experiential therapy can benefit teens and young adults by giving them opportunities for that to take place. Having a variety of options and the ability to experience new things in a therapeutic setting can have an incredibly positive impact on a young person struggling to find their place in the world.

Experiential Therapy for Substance Abuse and Addiction

Effective treatment programs for substance abuse and addiction often have an experiential component. That’s because substance abuse and addiction work on the brain by changing thoughts and behaviors. Experiential therapy can be used to disrupt those thoughts and distract away from cravings while engaging in a healthy activity. Neurologically, this releases natural, feel-good brain chemicals that solidify the experience as a positive alternative, and lessen the intensity of cravings over time.

If your teen or young adult is struggling with substance abuse, mental illness or a combination of both, finding the right program can make all the difference. Sandstone offers comprehensive treatment programs for co-occurring disorders and has trained professionals ready seven days a week to answer any questions you might have – call us today at 888-850-1890.

Experiential Therapy for Young Adults
Experiential Therapy helps clients better express their emotions and thoughts while interacting with others.
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Experiential Therapy for Teens
Experiential therapy involves movement, actions, or exercises.
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