Woman meditating in a field, to illustrate the potential for healing with experiential therapy

Experiential Psychotherapy

Experiential Psychotherapy and Addiction Treatment

Experiential psychotherapy is an option for individuals who have trouble connecting with therapists or talking about their addictions. It has also been known to be effective for adolescents. Learn more about this experimental but effective type of addiction treatment below.

What is Experiential Psychotherapy?

Though experiential psychotherapy activities are quickly becoming more and more popular for the treatment of addiction, they are not technically one type of psychotherapy or treatment program. Rather, the term is a blanket for many different experiential therapy techniques used to treat issues such as substance abuse.

  • Experiential psychotherapy concerns types of addiction treatment that focus on patients engaging in certain activities rather than talking out their feelings in traditional talk therapy.
  • This type of program can include a number of different hands-on activities, many of which are touched on below.
  • Because not every person experiences the same issues with addiction—or even the same general addiction syndrome—and because everyone is different, these programs can help tap into the needs of each individual patient beyond the more basic treatment options for addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is one of the most important principles of effective addiction treatment.

Experiential therapy interventions may not be right for everyone, but there are so many different types available that one can often find a program suited to their needs.

Types of Experiential Therapy

Some of these treatments can be extremely intensive and last months while others may be shorter and less in depth. The main link between different programs is that they ask recovering addicts to engage in one or more experiential therapy activities, usually one that requires concentration and teamwork.

  • Art therapy can be a type of experiential therapy program. Patients will often be encouraged to sculpt or get messy with their projects, using their hands and large amounts of concentration. Music therapy is also a type of art therapy where patients can engage and get hands-on with their projects.
  • Recreation is another type of experiential therapy. Patients may be asked to engage in activities like rock climbing, running an obstacle course, or doing something else similar. This is because these programs require the ability to work with a group and to actively participate in the activity.
  • Adventure therapy or wilderness therapy is another option. These programs usually last longer and might put the individual in a situation where they are outside and surrounded by nature. The forest, the mountains, the beach, and other locations are often used for wilderness or adventure therapy.

As you can see, patients shouldn’t expect an easy time of things in experiential psychotherapy. However, most of these programs are highly successful and have considerable research associated with their use, such as a 2014 study published in the Journey of Addiction Nursing or this Ohio State University study on wilderness therapy.

Experiential Psychotherapy Techniques

Experiential therapy can help recovering addicts in many ways. Because this type of program is so different from traditional therapy, many people believe it is not going to help, but there are many ways in which experiential therapy is able to help recovering individuals heal and cope.

  • These programs focus intensely in many cases on helping individuals learn to work together, to trust one another, and to rely on each other. This can largely help with the issues many recovering addicts face in feeling isolated and looked down upon. Experiential group therapy exercises like completing an obstacle course or putting on a play teach patients that it is important to rely on others for help during these programs, just as much as it is to rely on them in long-term sobriety. This attitude also helps patients bond with one another, which can be helpful for discussions in the future.
  • Experiential therapy can help someone open up about their issues without having to feel awkward sitting on a therapist’s couch. This can be highly effective for young people or others who just don’t feel comfortable in talk therapy. Instead, patients usually talk about their feelings while doing the activities, or they can express them through their work.
  • Finally, these programs do quite a bit to help rebuild confidence in those who are still struggling with substance abuse, which is deeply beneficial and meaningful to recovery. Those who have more developed senses of self and feelings of self-respect are often able to build stronger recoveries and avoid relapse.

Experiential psychotherapy can help patients overcome addiction and recover safely in a number of ways. Just because these programs are not the evidence-based practices of behavioral therapy and medication doesn’t mean they can’t truly change a person’s life. In many cases, these techniques are used in addition to evidence-based programs, but every patient is different and requires their own personalized therapy program for recovery.

Want to Learn More About Experiential Psychotherapy?

Call 877-959-7271 now. Our phone lines are always open, and we are always available to verify your insurance and to match you with treatment facilities that will accept your plan all across the nation.


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