What Is Experiential Therapy and How Does It Work For Addiction?

Last Updated on August 10, 2023

experiential therapy for addiction

Many rehab centers use various types of experiential therapy for addiction treatment. If you’ve never been to rehab, you may not know what this type of therapy entails or how it works. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at experiential therapy, how it works during rehab, and its benefits for people in recovery.

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What is experiential therapy?

Experiential therapy is a specific therapeutic technique. It uses expressive tools and activities to help people re-experience past emotional situations that changed the way they view themselves or others.1 With experiential therapy, individuals can more easily identify feelings associated with certain situations. For example, circumstances when they felt disappointed, angry, or ashamed all likely impacted their substance abuse. As a result, they can also work through and release repressed complex emotions like shame, anger, grief, and other negative feelings to change their current perception of reality.

Experiential therapy is a “client-centered” therapeutic approach. That means the therapist should honor the client’s preferences for certain tools and activities during treatment. Most often, therapists use things like arts and crafts, music, or role-playing to facilitate experiential therapy in treatment sessions. However, there are also various other ways to use experiential therapy, depending on the client’s treatment goals, circumstances, and preferences.2

Types of experiential therapy

During rehab, therapists may use various experiential therapy approaches to help people heal and establish healthier strategies to cope with emotions. For instance, the types of experiential therapy may include:

  • Adventure therapy: This often includes participating in outdoor group events like hiking, ropes courses, or games.3
  • Animal-assisted therapy: This therapeutic intervention usually involves involving an animal in the therapeutic process. For example, clients might spend time playing with or walking a dog, or caring for horses.4
  • Art therapy: This type of experiential therapy requires clients to create art, whether it’s sculpting, painting, or drawing, which helps enhance their self-awareness and enhances their ability to process negative emotions and experiences.5
  • Music therapy: Therapists may use music in a variety of ways, such as having clients listen to particular pieces, create music, or experiment with various instruments.6
  • Poetry therapy: With this type of intervention, therapists use poems or literature to promote personal growth and healing among clients.7 
  • Psychodrama: This type of therapy allows clients to explore personal issues through dramatic activities like role reversal or mirroring exercises.8

How do treatment professionals use experiential therapy in addiction treatment?

Typically, many treatment programs use the above types of experiential therapies in addiction treatment programs. However, they’re not the primary form of treatment. Instead, professionals use them in conjunction with evidence-based therapies that have proven to be effective for treating substance use disorders. 

For example, a therapist might use poetry therapy in an addiction treatment program. In addition to that, they may also use cognitive behavioral therapy and 12-Step facilitation therapy. This treatment approach provides well-rounded care that addresses all aspects of a person’s addiction.

Benefits of experiential therapy for addiction

Not surprisingly, the causes and contributing factors of substance use disorders are very complex. As a result, there’s no single solution that will “cure” addiction. Instead, clients need to explore the complicated emotional issues surrounding self-esteem, emotional triggers, and deep feelings that contribute to addiction. For this reason, it’s helpful to use treatment options like experiential therapy to help clients work through this process. That way they can heal and develop a healthier mindset.

Like other types of therapeutic approaches, using experiential therapy for addiction has many benefits, including:

  • It helps people address deep and painful hurts and resolve past conflict and trauma..
  • It empowers people to recognize where feelings or behaviors come from and verbalize it.
  • According to one 2015 study, experiential therapy may help young adults remain in treatment longer and complete their program.9
  • Experiential therapy can help people develop problem-solving skills.
  • It can also help individuals create healthier relationships by understanding communication problems.
  • Experiential therapy can help people become more proactive with their decision-making instead of automatically reacting in negative ways.
  • It helps people achieve a stronger sense of self-awareness in recovery.

How to find a rehab center that offers experiential therapy

Most rehab centers offer addiction treatment programs with several different types of therapeutic approaches. At Nova Recovery Center, we use several behavioral therapies and specialized therapies to provide a highly individualized approach to treatment. Furthermore, our multidisciplinary team of addiction treatment professionals actively integrates these therapies into each client’s program. That way, each client has a well-rounded and effective rehab program.

So, before you commit to a rehab program, you should ask what types of therapies they use during treatment. That includes whether they offer any types of experiential therapy. Otherwise, it may be difficult to know if the program is likely to be a good fit for you. 

For example, before committing to a rehab program, consider asking questions like these:

  • First, do you use any types of experiential therapies?
  • Will my insurance company cover these therapies?
  • Who on your staff is qualified to use experiential therapy and what qualifications do they have?
  • What other types of therapies do you use during treatment?

Comparatively, a rehab program that does not offer experiential therapy may not provide the well-rounded care you desire.

Related post: What to Expect In Life Skills Therapy

Get evidence-based addiction treatment at Nova Recovery Center

In conclusion, at Nova Recovery Center, we focus on providing individualized addiction treatment programs that help each client achieve lasting, sustainable sobriety. Our treatment programs include experiential therapies in conjunction with several other types of research-based therapies. Research has proven these methods to be effective in treating addiction.

Do you or a loved one need help to overcome your addiction? Our caring and qualified staff is here to support you. We offer outpatient and inpatient drug rehab Austin TX. Please call (888) 427-4932 to speak with an admissions representative at Nova Recovery Center. Or, contact us online for more details.

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One of our understanding, dedicated advisors will contact you about your options. Begin healing today.

Nova Recovery Center is dedicated to helping you or your loved one get help. Please call or fill out this form for a confidential consultation. One of our understanding, dedicated advisors will contact you about your options. Begin healing today.

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