Experiential Therapy For Drug And Alcohol Addiction

There are many different therapy approaches used to treat drug and alcohol addictions. Treatment is not one-size-fits-all. We are all unique individuals with varying circumstances; which treatment works best for each person will differ from patient to patient.

Perhaps you have considered inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or other forms of therapy for your addiction. But have you considered experiential therapy? If you are still searching for treatment options or have tried other therapies and they have not been successful for you, experiential therapy might be the treatment and the answer you have been looking for.

What Is Experiential Therapy?

As the name suggests, experiential therapy is not traditional “talk therapy,” but is a treatment that uses movements, activities, and actions to help individuals heal. For many patients struggling with drug or alcohol addictions, they may feel that the addiction itself is only the tip of the iceberg. Some patients are able to easily talk about their past pain and negative emotions that could have played a role in their addiction. However, there are those who struggle to put their pain into words or have buried their past traumas deep inside and experiential therapy might be a perfect fit.

Therapies that only address the tip of the iceberg (the addiction) and have failed to address underlying issues beneath the surface can lead to relapse in many patients. This is why physical, emotional, and psychological healing must all be included in the therapy process.

Experiential therapy was created during the 1970s and is more of a “category” of therapy rather than one specific type of treatment. It was developed so that patients with subconscious issues or buried traumas that are hard to dredge up from the past could identify those hidden pains through activities such as role-playing, using props, imagery, and a mixture of other techniques.

Some specific examples of experiential therapy include:

  • Music therapy
  • Psychodrama
  • Wilderness therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Recreation therapy
  • Arts therapy
  • Equine therapy
  • Dancing
  • Creative writing

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How It Works

For patients who may have subconscious pains or emotions lying beneath the surface, traditional “talk therapies” may not be as beneficial. When asked to describe their emotions, patients may have forgotten about what truly happened to them in the past or have buried it so deep it is extremely exhausting to talk about. Traditional talking therapies will not be useful for patients who are subconsciously avoiding talking about experiences altogether. When asked to describe their emotions, patients who are trying to suppress memories or have forgotten traumas may instead feel like crying, feel extreme urges to use substances, feel sleepy or even angry.

Experiential therapy allows patients to address their subconscious emotions in a less confrontational way. In other words, the patient’s focus is taken away from the therapy itself and all energy is diverted to the given task the patient is dealing with presently.

For example, if a patient is in equine therapy, they are much more likely to have their attention focused on the task at hand. While the patient is living in the moment and learning how to bridle and saddle, brush, or communicate with the horse, the individual is much more likely to let their guard down in this situation than in a traditional form of therapy. This allows the therapist to observe the behaviors and body language of the individual.

The therapist will then be asking the patient what they are doing and how they are feeling during the activity. For some patients, they feel more open to talk because they don’t feel as confronted in this style of therapy. And other times, patients are able to talk about past memories or traumas simply because their muscles, bones, and the rest of their body are “remembering” clues to hidden traumas the mind has tried to bury. Patients then can identify what led to those feelings or thoughts and communicate this information to the therapist.

Work Not Play

While many patients interested in experiential therapy find it enjoyable, remember that therapy is therapy. It is not play, but work that is supervised by a trained and certified therapist. Experiential therapy is a different approach to therapy that may work for those who have tried other traditional styles of therapy but have not been successful or who have relapsed into their addictions and past behaviors. Nevertheless, this form of therapy still requires effort and work on the part of the participant.

Is Experiential Therapy For Me?

While experiential may not be for everyone, you and your therapist can determine if this form of treatment is right for you. You may benefit from experiential therapy if you:

  • Have endured sexual or physical abuse in the past
  • Suffer from another mental illness in addition to your addiction
  • Feel uncomfortable talking about past traumas or memories
  • Struggle with communicating your thoughts without getting angry
  • Feel traditional talk therapies have left you confused or like it isn’t helping
  • Express happiness or interest in using music, art, recreation, animals, etc. as a part of your therapy

Benefits Of Experiential Therapy

There are many parts of experiential therapy from which you can benefit. The main goal of this type of therapy is to increase openness and communication, but other positives can also be gained too.

For example, if you are involved in equine therapy, you can learn how to match what you are feeling with what you are saying. Horses are intelligent creatures and they can pick up on the slightest inconsistencies. If you are speaking to the horse in a loving tone to try and encourage it to move a certain way, but your hands are balled in a fist at the reins, the horse will pick up on your conflicting behavior.

Patients who communicate negative emotions through their body actions may actually be thinking about using substances or any number of negative emotions. This insight is perfect for those that may say they will never use substances again, but are thinking otherwise. The therapist can then assist the patient in talking through emotions and can teach them to match what they are really thinking with what they are really saying.

Equine therapy patients can benefit from more independence, the ability to focus on living in the moment rather than in the past, increased ability to face the future with less fear, and can even become more focused on the present.

Music, art therapies, and the like can also bring many positive rewards such as filling the patient’s time with a new hobby. When an addicted individual uses drugs or alcohol, much of their time is spent abusing the substance or finding ways to obtain the substance. When committing to a sober lifestyle, the patient will need hobbies to fill up the time they once focused around drugs. Music and other therapies offer a creative outlet to express a wide range of emotions, are an enjoyable hobby, and are a positive distraction.

More Benefits

Other positive benefits gained from experiential therapy include:

  • Experiencing success of the task at hand
  • Identifying obstacles
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased self-accountability and responsibility for personal actions
  • Personal change, growth, and empowerment

Contact Us

If you have any questions about experiential therapy or are seeking help to end your drug or alcohol addiction, contact us today. There are many benefits to experiential therapy not found in more traditional types of treatment. Reach out to us today at RehabCenter.net for hope and healing. We also offer many other treatment options and will find the therapy that is right for you.

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