Delving Into Experiential Therapy

by | Dec 24, 2022 | Recovery

delving into experiential therapy

Mental illnesses and substance use disorders (SUD) are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults has a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 20.4 million people in the United States were diagnosed with SUD in the past year. Mental illnesses and SUD are exacting a significant toll on American individuals, families, and communities. There is no cure for SUD or any mental illnesses, but effective treatments are available. Treatment is often a combination of medication and therapy. One type of therapy used is experiential therapy.

Defining Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy is a group of therapeutic techniques that uses expressive tools to let patients re-live past emotional experiences. A trained therapist will guide the patient as they explore difficult emotions. The idea is to focus on the activities while identifying emotions that may have been buried or ignored.

To work through certain traumas or memories, these tools are necessary. These methods of therapy can lead patients to heal. Additionally, this approach can help nonverbal patients who experience language-based disabilities.

Is Experiential Therapy Evidence-Based?

Experiential therapy is a vast category that encompasses several methods. As such, some methods under this umbrella have been subject to more research than others. Some experiential therapies include:

Studies have shown that art and music therapy can benefit patients in mental health and SUD treatment. Experiential therapy should not replace traditional therapeutic modalities but used alongside evidence-based therapies.

How Does It Help Mental Illnesses and SUD?

Some people may think that experiential therapy is nothing more than play because many of the activities are creative or fun. Others cannot see experiential therapies’ connection with SUD or mental illness. However, this is therapy. It requires work and must be led by a licensed therapist.

Experiential therapy may be especially beneficial for patients who find it difficult to open up to their therapist. It can be easier to process feelings and talk about them with a therapist when creating art, walking in nature, and caring for animals since the focus is on the activity. There are advantages to utilizing experiential therapy in mental health and SUD treatment:

  • Patients can strengthen their relationships which is important for people who may have previously had difficulty communicating with friends and loved ones.
  • More effective emotional processing can lead to using healthy coping skills rather than using drugs, alcohol, or self-harm behaviors.
  • Better communication can help people with mental illness and SUD effectively communicate their needs and emotions and be better advocates for themselves.
  • Improved self-confidence can be gained from using experiential therapy to step out of comfort zones successfully.

Additionally, experiential therapy can benefit people with substance use disorders and mental illnesses because it integrates past and present experiences. Unlike other modalities that focus on behavior, experiential therapy focuses on the emotions behind problematic behaviors.

Where Do Patients Receive Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is flexible. It is appropriate for and can be delivered at all types of treatment programs:

  • Inpatient
  • Residential
  • Partial Hospitalization
  • Intensive Outpatient

Patients may also attend experiential therapy completely separate from a program. Many experiential therapy groups exist as outpatient. Moreover, plenty of therapists provide individual experiential therapy alongside their traditional practices.

Finding a Therapist

Patients will often receive some experiential therapy while in a program. How does a person find a therapist once they complete care, though? What should they look for? Most treatment facilities have caseworkers who make referrals to continuing care after treatment and can help patients find a therapist.

An internet search could be helpful for people seeking an experiential therapist without the help of a caseworker. When looking for a therapist, patients should find someone with the proper licensing. Qualified therapists should include their credentials with their names. This will tell individuals what kind of education and certification they possess. After ensuring the therapist has the proper qualifications, a patient may look for specialties. Many therapists list all their therapy modalities, experiential included, on their websites. Additionally, they’ll list the kinds of mental illnesses they treat.

While patients can find a therapist independently, primary care physicians can also refer them to a therapist. The physicians often have connections with individuals in the area. They can also ask their medical network for recommendations if they don’t possess the knowledge.

Get Treatment Now

People with mental illnesses or SUD may be hesitant to seek treatment due to fears of stigma and being judged. Taking that first step may be frightening, but the new life gained is worth pushing past that fear. People should not let fear of stigma and judgment stop them from getting the care they need.

If you need treatment for substance use disorders or mental illnesses, Sober Life offers partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient programs to help. Our programs provide various evidence-based treatments and experiential therapies to help you get on the right track with your mental health. Through art and music therapy, you may find yourself making strides in healing. We help you build confidence and resilience while you develop healthy coping skills that will help you begin and maintain long-term recovery. Additionally, we offer a full alumni program after treatment completion. You’re at the start of a newer, healthier life. When you’re ready to begin, call (619) 542-9542 to learn more about treatment. 

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