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What Is Experiential Therapy?


Experiential Therapy At A Glance

As research into the science of addiction continues to advance, traditional therapies have begun  incorporating current, contemporary techniques into treatment. One such method is the utilization of experiential therapy. It is a therapeutic technique that involves role-playing, imagery, or the various physical exercises to re-enact traumatic or emotional experiences. By confronting these past events, an individual exposes repressed emotions and is able to restore a healthy perspective. Experiential therapy is very useful within the addiction and recovery community as trauma is a common source of addiction.

Why is Experiential Therapy Used?

Experiential therapy is commonly used when it has been determined that the individual being treated is suffering from unresolved trauma or repressed emotion. The events leading to this fragile mental and emotional state may have occurred during the advanced addiction stage or during adolescence, in which case the trauma could be the source of addiction.

An individual’s subconscious is very powerful and capable of suppressing unpleasant memories. Experiential therapy urges the individual to engage in activities that may bring these past traumas to light. By confronting painful memories or events that may have been suppressed, an individual will develop healthy coping skills through the assistance of their therapist. Once suppressed emotions surrounding the trauma have been identified, the individual will then work with their therapist to heal and resolve. This process effectively improves the client’s self-esteem, discipline, and mindset.

Experiential Therapy Activities

While there is no restriction as to what experiential therapy activities can involve, there are common activities utilized based on their proven effectiveness. The exercises used depend on the individual’s needs and the therapist’s common practices. Frequent activities are listed below.

Role-play Therapy

This therapeutic method substantiates the notion that learning occurs through action. An individual undergoing role-play therapy will begin the session by setting the scene. With assistance from the therapist, they will reenact traumatic or highly emotional events. By confronting and reliving these experiences, they gradually lose their power and the individual is able to reclaim mental clarity. According to a study conducted by the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine, clients experienced declines in their urge to drink during the role-play sessions from pre- to post treatment, and these declines were related to reductions in heavy drinking.

Art Therapy

Art therapy is a popular exercise within addiction treatment centers. It has been proven that expressing yourself artistically promotes a sense of calm, self-reflection, and confidence. Being guided through the process by a therapist, a client may be directed to paint a picture of their family, draw a portrait of their significant other, or depict what they desire for their future. By incorporating art with talk therapy, the therapist will gain a deeper understanding of the client, while the client improves their ability to self-reflect and self-soothe.

Music Therapy

Being strongly associated with emotion, music therapy is a powerful form of experiential therapy. Specific songs are capable of persuading mood and can act as either triggers or soothers. Music therapy is often applied in the beginning stages of addiction treatment as a way to calm clients who may feel overwhelmed with their recent life transition. Music is also very effective in targeting negative emotions. Once identified, a therapist will incorporate talk therapy into the session in order to assist the client in the healing process. 

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is the most physically-involved form of experiential therapy. Exercises include, but are not limited to, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, camping, or boating. Typically a group therapy exercise, these activities connect the individuals in treatment to the outside world. It is scientifically proven that exercise and being in nature improve mood. During these sessions, clients are able to form trust between one another and improve thought patterns and problem solving skills.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy

Addiction is complex; therefore, successful treatment of this disorder must involve various methods and techniques so that treatment specialists and clients can come to a mutual understanding on what approach will be the most effective based on the individual situation. Experiential therapy is highly regarded among professionals in the field of addiction as a highly effective form of therapy.

When incorporated into more traditional models of treatment, experiential therapy can bolster the recovery process. With the intent of confronting and treating trauma or emotional suppression, this therapy can unearth toxic behavioral thought patterns, beliefs, and unresolved emotional distress. Because trauma is a common source of addiction, experiential therapy is necessary in confronting these past elements and assisting the client into the healing stages of recovery.

While other talk therapies such as individual or group therapies can also deal with trauma, experiential therapy targets the subconscious and possibly unrealized traumas afflicting the client and effectively brings them to light. Afterwards, the therapist assists the client in developing healthy coping skills and releasing  negative emotions attached to past trauma.

Begin Experiential Therapy Today

Because of the many advances in modern addiction medicine, alternative therapies, such as experiential therapy, are now widely practiced. Experiential therapy requires the client to be physically engaged in an activity that pulls from their past experiences and trauma. This allows the individual to expose emotions or memories which may have been repressed. Repressed emotions and unresolved trauma are among the leading causes of substance addiction.

Experiential therapy, in its many forms, is highly beneficial to those in addiction treatment programs. It improves the likelihood of lifelong sobriety significantly. Unlike many traditional talk therapies, experiential therapy deals specifically with the emotionally unaware through physical exercises. Role-play therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and adventure therapy are among the most common forms of experiential therapeutics; however, there is no limit as to how this therapy can be applied.

The professionals at Southeast Addiction Center are committed to your successful recovery. We adapt our treatment approach to fit what you are most comfortable with. Whether it be traditional therapy or an alternative method, such as experiential therapy, we accommodate every client so that their time spent with us is effective and can procure lifelong results. You do not have to struggle with addiction on your own. If you or a loved one is interested in any of our many services, call today to speak with a specialist. We will beat this addiction together. 

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