For so many people, one-on-one talk therapy is a path towards happiness, relaxation and improved relationships with their friends, family members, and co-workers. Other people do not seem to enjoy or benefit from these traditional treatment plans.

Some people learn better by doing, not by talking. These people may respond better to an alternative to standard therapy called experiential therapy.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Individual talk therapy works great, but it requires the client to have the ability to verbalize their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors accurately. Since the therapist cannot see inside of them, the client has to guide the process.

Experiential therapy is an attractive alternative because it works by deeply engaging the feelings and emotions of the person in treatment. This form of therapy helps to inspect the unconscious thoughts feeding into the dysfunction facets of life.

For someone who is abusing alcohol and other drugs, experiential therapy can help to uncover news senses and feelings about the substance use that they can employ to end their addictions. This direction of treatment can produce periods of recovery that materialize quickly and last for an extended duration.

Another benefit of experiential therapy is that it may create fewer cravings than other forms of therapy. Typically, a person with addiction issues is expected to talk about their triggers and to hear the triggers of others. These aspects of treatments may be counterproductive to recovery and are usually absent from experiential therapy.

Experiential therapy fosters change, growth, and empowerment without many of the negatives linked to other forms of therapy.

How Experiential Therapy Works

This form of therapy utilizes experiential therapy activities to accomplish the goal. Rather than sitting in an office for 45 minutes at a time looking at a therapist, experiential therapy interventions involve movement, action, adventure, and creativity.

Because experiential therapy is based on the notion that the person’s beliefs about the world determine their behavior, this therapy works to reprocess and release unwanted feelings from the past. With these undesirable emotions out of the way, the person will be better able to feel and express wanted feelings like love, acceptance, forgiveness, and relaxation.

Since shame, guilt, doubt, resentment, and anger are common reasons for people to start and continue substance use, limiting these problematic feelings can create better recovery options.

Experiential therapy can also target some underlying feelings and conditions that influence substance use. Experiential therapy can treat a variety of issues like:

  • Mood disorders including depression and bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief and loss
  • Anger management
  • Traumas
  • Substance use and addictions

Experiential therapy works by bringing flexibility and individuality to the treatment process. It may be used as a stand-alone treatment, or it can be combined with more traditional, talk therapy options to increase the benefit of both.

Examples of Experiential Therapy

The types of experiential therapy are only limited to the creativity of the client and their therapist. Many examples of experiential therapy exist, including:

  • Adventure Therapies

    Being active and engaging with a variety of physical and mental challenges like ropes courses, zip-lining and obstacle challenges.

  • Animal-Assisted Therapies

    Using animals like horses, dogs, and cats to shift the person’s thinking from negative to positive through petting, playing and grooming activities.

  • Art Therapy

    Encouraging people to express their concealed emotions by creating art through painting, sculpting, carving, pottery, and drawing. Art therapy may also involve writing stories or poetry.

  • Music Therapy

    Like art therapy, music therapy involves creating something as a form of self-expression. Music therapy includes making and listening to music.

  • Play Therapy

    A treatment ideal for small children who lack the ability to disclosure information verbally. Play therapy allows them to explore their thoughts with toys, puppets, and games.

  • Psychodrama Therapy

    This form of therapy permits people to process their feelings or life experiences through acting in fictional plays or role-plays of their life experiences.

  • Wilderness Therapy

    Being out in the wilderness of nature helps people move away from their negativity and find acceptance and positivity of the natural environment.

Experiential therapy may be conducted independently, but most often, the therapist adds other forms of talk therapy to the treatment play. This way, the problem of substance abuse is targeted from various approaches.

Experiential therapy works well in combination with many therapy styles like Gestalt therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Like with experiential therapy, Gestalt therapy views people’s problems as issues that block the potential for happiness.

Gestalt therapy focuses on helping people see what is happening in their present life, rather than being concerned about issues from the past. This form of therapy does not only want clients to talk about their issues. It wants them to relive and re-enact the situations.

CBT is a commonly used talk therapy style that believes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. If someone is engaging in unwanted behaviors, they should adjust their thinking. If someone has unwanted feelings, they should target changes to their thoughts and behaviors.

Both of these related treatments can do well to address the substance use disorder as well as the mental health issues that could be factoring into the addiction.

Key Points: Experiential Therapy

  • Experiential therapy is an alternative to traditional talk therapies.
  • Experience therapy can treat addictions as well as mood problems, anger, grief and eating disorders.
  • Experiential therapy is based on expressing deep emotions through creativity, movement, and new experiences.
  • Experient therapy may be used independently or in combination with treatments like Gestalt therapy and CBT therapy.

If you or a loved one is dealing with addiction from alcohol or drugs, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to explore treatment options and discover the professional assistance you deserve.

  • Sources

    National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. “Treatment Methods and Evidence-Based Practices.” Accessed September 29, 2019.

    Psychology Today. “Experiential Therapy.” Accessed September 29, 2019.

    Psychology Today. “Gestalt Therapy.” Accessed September 29, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.