Experiential therapy is a therapeutic method using expressive tools and activities, such as role-playing or acting, arts and crafts, music, animal care, or other exercises to cope with emotional situations from past and recent relationships. Different from talk therapy, clients focus on activities and through the experience begin to identify emotions associated with success, disappointment, and self-esteem. Under the guidance of a trained therapist, the client may start to recognize and process negative feelings of anger and shame related to life experiences that may have been suppressed as a way of coping with them.
Developed in the 1970s, experiential therapy encourages patients to address those subconscious issues through activities. Experiential therapy is actually a category, rather than one specific type of therapy. There are many possible activities, including recreation therapy, equine therapy, expressive arts therapy, music therapy, wilderness therapy, adventure therapy, and psychodrama.
Benefits of Experiential Therapy
This non-traditional form of psychotherapy began as a new way of treating trauma, mood disorders, and grief. However, it can also be particularly effective in treating substance use disorder (SUD) because trauma and co-occurring mood disorders are frequently drivers of substance misuse.
As patients progress through structured experiential therapy activities under the guidance of an experiential therapist, they are offered an opportunity to experience success, identify and overcome obstacles, improve self-esteem, and learn to be accountable for their actions.
Among the many benefits of participating in evidence-based experiential therapy programs are emotional growth and personal empowerment. Because experiential therapy patients are often focused on the task or activity at hand, rather than on the therapeutic aspect of the experience, they are more likely to behave in a more genuine manner.
Experiential Therapy at Muir Wood
Both yoga and guided meditation are taught on a weekly basis to help the teens learn healthy stress management skills, calm their minds, and develop mindfulness. They work with a certified yoga therapist and a meditation instructor with many years of experience.
In our equine-assisted therapy program, teens in residential treatment may spend several hours per week working with horses, learning to connect with their inner experience, practicing non-verbal communication, and building emotional maturity. For young people with trust issues, working with horses may allow them to realize the joy of connecting with another living creature.
Equine therapy allows participants to learn how their actions and emotions impact those around them. It may also help clients reconnect with emotions that have remained dormant during their struggle with substance use. Patients often experience a significant improvement in their ability to trust others, access emotion, request help, and rise to challenges throughout their recovery.
In our weekly adventure therapy program, a qualified eco-therapist guides the teens through an incredible outdoor adventure. They build confidence, develop new skills and interests, and learn to take on challenging circumstances in a safe therapeutic environment.
Music therapy has been shown to help people deal with a number of conditions, including patients in recovery from addiction. Music can have a powerful influence on emotions and mood, but it can also allow people to communicate their moods. While it can be difficult to explain your mood in words, music can do so perfectly. This makes it a valuable tool in addiction treatment.
Our art therapist works with the teens to help them process difficult emotions or trauma, build communication skills, learn creative problem solving, and develop self-awareness.
Muir Wood’s holistic and experiential therapy offerings round out an effective program of individual and group therapy, structured academics, and family involvement.