Experiential Therapy is a type of therapy used at Sovereign Health 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, experiential therapy focuses on patients acting out their thoughts and feelings.
According to the American Society of Experiential Therapists, experiential therapy “serves to elicit material from the unconscious that allows one to fill in perceptual, cognitive and emotional gaps. Material that has been out-of-vision can come to the surface where it can be worked through and seen in a new light. Its unique ability to give voice to hidden wounds has made the experiential model a therapy of choice for treatment centers and hospitals across the United States.”
What is experiential therapy?
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” focuses on thinking, experiential therapy allows individuals to see their actions. We often do not tap into these feeling 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 situation 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:
- Patients can express feelings and be themselves
- 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
- Decreases intensity of perceived distress
- Decreases feelings of inadequacy and inferiority
- Decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety
- A greater orientation to the present
- A greater tendency to be more independent
Indications for experiential therapy
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety and stress
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 Sovereign Health, please call our 24/7 helpline.