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Learning and growing through personal experience is a process that taps into a person’s intuition and subconscious. While moving through physical space, a person can process painful thoughts and emotions more deeply and effectively. Experiential therapies are a unique group of therapies that focus on how an individual’s actions can provoke material buried in the psyche to the surface for healing from addiction and mental health conditions.

What Does Experiential Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, experiential is defined as “involving or based on experience and observation.” 

A person gains experiential knowledge from actually seeing, touching, and engaging in the activity as it exists in reality. It’s one thing to read about something, but it’s another to experience it. For instance, a person who has gone through addiction likely has a much different perspective on the condition than someone who has only read about it.

Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy is a group of nontraditional therapies with action at the heart of its methodology. 

It works by using the client’s innermost experiences — positive and negative — during activities as a medium for growth and change. Some of these experiences are subconscious, such as underlying values and beliefs about the world, and can be pulled to the surface of one’s conscious mind using multisensory techniques. 

Pain can get locked into a person’s psyche by blocking it out or pretending it doesn’t exist. This doesn’t make the pain go away. Ignoring it can lead to addiction or mental health disorders. Clients immerse themselves in certain activities to rediscover memories they have been avoiding. Negative thoughts and emotions are analyzed, and clients are guided on how to start letting go of their pain. 

Experiential Therapies at WCRC

Various activities fall under the umbrella of experiential therapy. Therapies offered at West Coast Recovery Centers include:

  • Music therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Activity therapy
  • Adventure therapy

Creative Arts

The creative arts allow clients to unravel their psyche non-verbally through creative expression. This process involves a different area of the brain than talking and may elicit certain insights through the artistic process that cannot be accessed by speaking. Art therapy and music therapy can be particularly useful with clients that don’t yet have the words to communicate how they feel. Talking about an issue may be too triggering.

Activity Therapy 

Activity therapy is also called occupational or recreational therapy. Activity therapy can include any individualized activity that a person finds supportive in their recovery. This can include things like exercise, cooking, and playing games. The meaningful task works to “improve health; prevent further injury or disability; enhance quality of life; and develop, sustain, or restore the highest possible level of independence,” according to American Psychological Association. 

Adventure Therapy 

Adventure therapy is aimed at outdoor activities and nature. It can be defined as programs that use ”outdoor activities and experiential learning exercises to help participants to deal with their psychological problems.” Adventure therapy can serve three functions: prevention, early intervention, and treatment for clients with behavioral, psychological, and psychosocial issues.

Conditions Therapy Can Treat

As a group of therapies designed to target multiple dimensions of a client’s internal state, many different conditions can be treated using experiential therapy, such as: 

  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief, anger, shame
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Substance use disorders
  • Relationship and family conflicts
  • Trauma and post-traumatic stress

What Are the Benefits?

Experiential therapies can provide diverse benefits, like improved: 

  • Independence
  • Physical health
  • Sense of well-being
  • Psychosocial skills
  • Emotional resilience
  • Confliction resolution skills
  • Self-esteem and self-awareness
  • Cognitive and sensorimotor functions

How Does It Help With Addiction?

Those struggling with addiction may benefit from experiential therapies because of the way certain activities may stimulate real-world stressors. This happens in a safe, therapeutic environment where triggers can be managed effectively. 

The consequences of becoming overwhelmed by stressors like hunger or frustration can be addressed while they happen outside the four walls of treatment. Experiencing everyday situations, both the good and the bad, in early recovery can provide an opportunity to apply practical skills and techniques. 

Experiential therapy can serve as a test run for life outside of treatment.

Breaking Down Emotional Walls

People recovering from addiction may also learn to accept their experiences and forgive those responsible for the pain that led to their addiction. Emotional walls might get broken down due to the nature of the activity. 

For example, while hiking or playing a problem-solving game in nature, the group may come across a challenge that will require full cooperation and all senses to be engaged. People may find themselves in a position where they cannot fake emotions or keep up walls. They must put their best foot forward to make it through to the other side. 

Experiential therapy is a group of therapies that include the creative arts, activity therapy, and adventure therapy. Individuals suffering from mental health conditions and addiction have the opportunity to explore their minds and work on their issues in a nurturing, therapeutic environment. Experiential therapy creates the space to transform through personal experience. West Coast Recovery Centers is an outpatient treatment program located in Oceanside, CA. We are accredited by the Joint Commission to provide care to clients who have an addiction and co-occurring disorder. We offer experiential therapies as a way forward for those who need a more comprehensive approach to treatment. While we strongly believe clinical modalities are crucial to creating the foundation for addiction recovery, hands-on therapies address unique aspects of a person’s being and provide alternative pathways to healing. To learn more about our treatment approach, call (760) 492-6509.