Experiential therapy is a type of therapy for patients in recovery from mental health disorders or substance abuse. This therapy seeks to address hidden or subconscious problems through real-life experiences with the use of guided imagery, role-playing, and props. Instead of the typical talk and listen approach in therapy, it focuses on patients acting out their thoughts and feelings.

Experiential therapy helps to draw information from the unconscious to close emotional, cognitive, and perceptual gaps. It is possible for previously invisible material to the surface and to be worked in order to be viewed in a new way. This model has become a go-to therapy for hospitals and treatment facilities across the US because of its exceptional capacity to bring voice to suppressed traumas.

There are many experiential therapy techniques that can be used to elicit the subconscious or underlying thoughts and feelings that we have stored away. Whereas traditional talk therapy lays the focus on thinking, experiential therapy allows individuals to see their actions. We often do not tap into these feelings or thoughts because we do not practice self-reflection or meditation due to our busy schedules.

Guided imagery can use pictures of people, nature, or everyday images that may evoke a thought or feeling in a patient and uncover these expressions that were hidden. Role-playing a scenario or listening to a certain song, or watching a movie can also evoke underlying thoughts and feelings. Making collages or picture books is an expression of art that is often used in experiential therapy.

Play therapy is another form of experiential therapy that allows young patients to act out scenarios by using props or toys. In the pediatric population, many children will act out a dangerous situations such as being bullied at school or tormented at home through their play with toys. Most often, these young patients will not discuss their feeling or these unsafe experiences, but through their actions, it can become apparent they are in a stressful situation.

Animal-assisted therapy is also another form of experiential therapy. By interacting with animals such as horses, dogs, dolphins, and pigs, patients may uncover their deeper feeling and emotions. Sovereign makes use of equine therapy to help patients learn positive lessons such as patience, empathy, and responsibility.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy provides a number of benefits to patients, and some of them are as follows:

  • Patients can express feelings and be themselves.
  • There will be an improved capacity for patients to develop meaningful and warm interpersonal relationships with others.
  • Patients are less likely to act out and make abrasive decisions.
  • The intensity of perceived distress will decrease over time.
  • The feelings of inadequacy and inferiority will also decrease.
  • There will be decreased signs of depression and anxiety.
  • Patients will experience a greater orientation to the present and will find a greater tendency to be more independent.

Although experiential therapy can be a great way to express underlying feelings and emotions, there are a few disorders that are contraindicated to this type of therapy. Patients diagnosed with dissociative disorders, personality disorders (BPD), PTSD, recent crisis/trauma, and any patient who is hyperaroused, suicidal, or psychotic should not undergo experiential therapy.

For more information on experiential therapy and other treatment modalities offered by rehab treatment centers, find online resources and visit their official websites to learn more about the best treatments available.