Experiential therapy is a term that refers to a group of different types of therapy in which the patient uses various activities as a catalyst for working through suppressed emotions or subconscious issues. This form of therapy was developed in the 1970s as a way for therapists to observe patients’ behavior in a situation where the patient is focused on an activity instead of their treatment. This helps the patient to be more open and vulnerable than they might be in a more structured therapy session.
Different types of experiential therapy include equine therapy, hiking, role playing, creating art, and many others. As a patient becomes involved in the experiential therapy, they are able to find avenues of expression for feelings they may have previously had a difficult time expressing. As participants complete the tasks assigned to them, they develop self-confidence as they uncover new talents and interests. During activities like role playing or psychodrama they may be able to tap into repressed memories or emotions and uncover the roots of problems they have been struggling with.
During or after the experiential therapy, the therapist or counselor may choose to discuss the experience with the patient to share insights into their behavior. The patient can then share their feelings about the experience and use this information to move forward in the healing process. Together, the patient and therapist may be able to discover what prompts certain behaviors and what impact this information has on the recovery process.
Another important benefit of experiential therapy, especially in the case of those recovering from addiction, is that it gives the patient new activities and interests to pursue in their spare time. Many recovering addicts report that leisure time is difficult during recovery because they need to find ways to fill the time that they use to spend acquiring and using drugs or alcohol. The new activities they explore during experiential therapy can give them options to fill this void, which decreases the chance of relapse later on.