What Is Experiential Therapy and How Can It Help Me?
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When you think of psychotherapy, what do you see? Most people probably envision some sort of an office with a therapist and a patient sitting and talking. Talk therapy is the gold standard of therapy and is very effective for many people and many situations. Others benefit from a more hands-on approach. Especially when used as a complementary therapy, experiential therapy can help make breakthroughs for individuals who may be struggling with talk therapy alone. What is experiential therapy, and how can it help me?

How Does Experiential Therapy Differ From Talk Therapy?

While talk therapy relies almost completely on verbal communication, experiential therapy uses activities, expressive art forms, manipulatives, and other hands-on experiences within the therapeutic process. Many forms of experiential therapy allow patients to express, recreate, or reenact emotions, situations, or events from their present or past lives to process them.

Other forms of experiential therapy offer experiences that create challenges, obstacles, and teaching moments that allow therapy to occur in an organic way. All forms of experiential therapy are more than just outward experiences. They are led by licensed clinical therapists trained not only as therapists but also in the specific experiential therapeutic techniques to achieve the best possible results from each patient.

Why Is Experiential Therapy So Helpful for Some People?

Many people struggle with communication. They put up walls or emotional barriers that make it difficult to navigate and get to the source of the problem. Within a talk therapy setting, this extends the length and difficulty of talk therapy. Experiential therapy, on the other hand, can break down those barriers. Many people benefit from using experiences to communicate rather than trying to put their thoughts and emotions into words.

Other people benefit from moving rather than just sitting and talking. Being engaged in activities and being able to use their bodies within therapy allows them to process their emotions in ways that simple talk therapy cannot do for them.

How Can Nonverbal Forms of Therapy Work So Quickly?

Experiential therapy is less verbal or sometimes nonverbal and can work much more quickly and effectively than traditional talk therapy. By immersing themselves in the experiences and activities, patients access different parts of the brain than verbal communication does. Experiences bypass verbal barriers and access memories and emotions that have been locked away, especially for those struggling to put into words their trauma or emotions.

For someone who experienced childhood trauma, for example, and did not have the language to express what happened to them at the time, then locked those memories away, experiential therapy gives them the power to access and communicate those memories in nonverbal ways. This can happen very quickly through experiential therapy, whereas it could take a very long time to access those memories and verbally communicate in talk therapy. Utilizing this form of therapy is beneficial in that t allows the individual to get to the root of their trauma. 

What Are Some Forms of Experiential Therapy?

There are many forms of experiential therapy, ranging from the arts to nature to various sporting activities to play therapy, and more. Sometimes experiential therapy can be generalized and involve various experiences within a group, such as experiencing real-life situations during residential treatment. A couple of other examples of experiential therapy include:

  • Trauma-informed Art Therapy – a safe therapeutic method of exploring art to process trauma through creativity and the medium of healing.
  • Sandplay Therapy – by using miniature figures in a sandbox, patients play with the figures to express themselves and their inner world. The figures represent specific things, and the therapist is able to access a lot of information very quickly with little to no verbal communication.

Can Experiential Therapy Help in Treatment for Addiction?

Experiential therapy is being utilized more often in addiction recovery because it can be especially effective with those who have experienced trauma, which is very common with addiction. Various forms of hands-on therapy provide an alternative that feels safe for those who are survivors of trauma or do not otherwise respond as well to traditional talk therapy.

The lasting effectiveness of experiential therapy is also particularly helpful in reaching those in treatment for substance use disorders because it does not require language access to the brain, something many in addiction can struggle with. Those memories that are accessed in active addiction can be processed and then remain with those who might otherwise struggle to remember the verbal communication of talk therapy. Experiential therapy such as art therapy or sandplay therapy can be very powerful in treating both trauma and addiction.

What is experiential therapy, and how can it help me? Experiential therapy allows patients to be immersed in activity throughout therapy, bypassing the filters and barriers that patients put up in traditional talk therapy. There are many types of experiential therapy, but their commonality is being able to reach patients quickly and more effectively, often in nonverbal ways. Experiential therapy can also feel safe for those who have experienced trauma. At The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women, experiential therapy is used along with traditional talk therapy to be able to offer patients the opportunity choices in their healing from addiction. We are located in Costa Mesa, California, in a comfortable, peaceful setting. We offer trauma-informed care to create a safe place for you to heal. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us today at (714) 581-3974 to learn more about the experiential therapies we use.