Experiential therapy is a treatment program for addiction that gets patients out of the traditional recovery setting and provides hands-on options that will allow them to work through their substance use disorders. This type program has been known to be effective for many individuals, especially adolescents. It can take place in different facilities or environments and different times in one’s recovery, depending on the individual’s unique situation.
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What Is Experiential Therapy?
Experiential therapy is an alternative type of addiction treatment that focuses on giving patients a way to actively participate in their recoveries. It is also an effective program for individuals who are uncomfortable with traditional talk therapy treatments. This is one reason why it is so often embraced by adolescents.
Some of the most popular forms of experiential therapy include
- Wilderness or adventure therapy: a program where patients are asked to learn survival techniques in the wilderness
- Recreation therapy: a program where patients participate in hands-on, recreational activities like rope courses, rock climbing, hiking, etc.
- Art therapy: a program where patients learn a new artistic skill like playing an instrument, painting, sculpting, or acting and practice it
All of these therapies are focused on immersing the patient into a new kind of activity as well as helping them through their substance abuse issues. These programs can often be challenging and intense, but many patients find them extremely rewarding as well. Many of them also rely heavily on peer support, which according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a necessary part of treatment for addiction.
How Does Experiential Therapy Work?
Experiential therapy works by immersing an individual in this new activity and allowing them to rebuild their lives at the same time. Treatment may be confrontational, especially in the case of wilderness or recreation therapy, but it can be effective for individuals who cannot get the same results with traditional programs.
- A new activity such as rock climbing or sculpting can help an individual who has buried emotions begin to unearth them. In the case of art therapy, the individual can begin to understand and express those emotions through the art they create. In the case of recreation or wilderness therapy, the difficulty of the physical challenge can sometimes bring about a new understanding of emotions.
- Not everyone can sit in a room and discuss their feelings. Many people, especially adolescents and adults with long-term substance use disorders, find it hard to work through their addiction issues in traditional ways. This is an alternative that can be effective for many people.
- Wilderness therapy expects all individuals to work together and keep one another safe. This is at the core of the social support many individuals need during addiction treatment, and it can be especially helpful for adolescents.
- There are often discussions during experiential therapy with counselors, but they are facilitated by the activity. The counselor might ask a patient, for example, how they felt doing a certain activity and what they gained from it.
Different techniques are used in different experiential therapy programs.
- Animal therapy: Horses are often used during wilderness or recreation therapy to help patients cope with their substance use disorders. The bond they build with these animals helps them become stronger in their recoveries.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Patients learn to visualize traumatic events from their past and then are prompted to move their eyes in certain ways. This can be effective in helping patients control emotions and feelings of stress.
- Building Responsibility: Experiential therapy programs that require recreational activities ask that patients develop a sense of personal responsibility. They must follow the rules, protect themselves, and protect one another.
- Self-expression and Self-esteem: Art therapy can help patients learn to better express their emotions and build feelings of self-esteem in the face of a completed project (Journal of Addictions Nursing).
Experiential therapy is a broad category, but there are many different effective programs that fall under this option for addiction treatment.
Call now to find recovery programs that offer experiential therapy!
When Should Experiential Therapy Start?
Experiential therapy probably shouldn’t start until the patient is more stabilized in their recovery. This can mean detox treatment should occur first and experiential therapy afterward. However, many patients with co-occurring mental disorders find experiential therapies to be extremely helpful, which could mean some individuals with long-term depressive or other psychological symptoms might want to seek this option before all withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
Starting experiential therapy should occur on a patient-by-patient basis, as not everyone is ready to begin a program like this right away. Art therapy requires concentration many individuals don’t have early on in recovery, and it can be dangerous to go through wilderness or recreation therapy if you are not yet stabilized from any physical withdrawal symptoms. It is important that each and every patient has their own timeline.
How Long Does Experiential Therapy Last?
Experiential therapy sometimes lasts a few months or longer, but normally, the patient needs time to be able to build up their newfound skill. Many individuals attend wilderness therapy programs for 6 months or so in order to immerse themselves in their program for an ample amount of time. Again, it can sometimes be dependent on the patient and/or the program one chooses.
Where Can I Find Experiential Therapy?
Experiential therapy programs exist all over the country, and many traditional rehab and detox facilities have implemented at least some of these options into their programs. It is important to seek out the programs you believe will best suit your needs.
Seek Safe, Effective Detox Treatment Today
Call 800-483-2193 now to discuss your options for detox and rehab facilities near you as well as programs that may offer experiential therapy options like wilderness, recreation, and art therapy.