Experiential therapy is an umbrella term that applies to a range of action- and movement-based forms of psychotherapy.
First used in the 1970s, experiential therapy uses a wide range of activities (such as role playing, wilderness adventures, expressive arts, animal-assisted experiences and trust-based activities) to identify and address hidden or subconscious issues that may not reveal themselves via more traditional forms of therapy.
For patients who have previously participated in more traditional forms of psychotherapy (primarily talk therapy in a clinical or office setting), experiential therapy can be particularly effective due to its ability to take the patient’s focus off the therapy itself and encourage him or her to function “in the moment.”
For example, while completing a ropes course, the patient will be focused on mastering what first may appear to be an insurmountable task, and will be more likely to let his/her guard down than he or she would during a traditional individual or group talk therapy session.
During experiential therapy sessions, patients have the opportunity to experience successes, identify obstacles, develop improved self-esteem, and take greater responsibility for their actions. After the experiential therapeutic activity, they have the opportunity to process their emotions and receive specific feedback based upon their decisions, actions, and reactions.
Though not necessarily a primary focus of experiential therapy, the activities that patients participate in may also serve the purpose of providing them with new ways of filling leisure time or other “down times” during their daily lives.
This may be particularly important for individuals who are in treatment for substance abuse and addiction, because part of the recovery process involves finding healthy and productive leisure activities to fill the hours previously occupied by searching for, acquiring, and using alcohol or other drugs.
Experiential therapy has been an effective component of comprehensive treatment programs for individuals who are struggling with a range of issues and disorders.
Experiential therapy has been successfully integrated into treatment programs for adults and teens who are receiving treatment for alcohol, chemical dependency, mood disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and a host of other related conditions.
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