Experiential therapies are therapeutic techniques that make use of expressive tools and activities, such as role-playing, arts and crafts, music, guided imagery, or other recreational forms to re-enact and re-experience emotional situations from past and current relationships.
Evidence has shown that substance abuse treatment programs that take an integrated approach to addiction and mental health are associated with the best outcomes. Integrated treatment is intended to address a broad range of physical, emotional, and spiritual issues – many of which are deeply intertwined.
Integrated programs are typically comprised of a combination of traditional psychotherapies (talk therapies) and evidence-based experiential therapies, which include hands-on activities. This blend of treatments helps people examine and gain insight into any number of issues from different angles to foster sustainable, meaningful, and holistic healing.
Experiential Therapy for Addiction
Experiential therapies are an essential component of any high-quality, comprehensive addiction treatment program. They involve activities designed to help people feel successful as they work through obstacles in different contexts and settings.
Experiential therapies operate using fundamental principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and other clinically-studied conventional talk therapies. They offer many benefits for those in recovery from substance abuse, such as helping them do the following:
- Enhance self-awareness by observing how they respond emotionally and behaviorally and while engaging in a meaningful or enjoyable activity
- Make sense of emotions that are hard to express through traditional talk therapies
- Uncover buried memories or emotions in a safe, supportive setting of health providers, counselors, and peers
- Identify emotional responses that manifest during specific situations
- Take action to initiate and promote positive life changes
Experiential therapies are facilitated by therapists who help individuals forge meaningful associations between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Importantly, however, these activities are also about enjoyment and having fun and may lead to the discovery of healthy hobbies that can help the individual engage in during recovery.
Forms of Experiential Therapies
During an art therapy session led by a trained therapist, participants engage in various art-related exercises, such as the following:
- Recreating an experience by drawing or painting
- Expressing emotions using colors, shapes, and lines
- Creating art as a means to relieve stress and have fun
- Viewing the creativity and art of others and discussing it in a group environment
In general, art therapy can help those who participate in expressing emotions in non-traditional ways and integrating past experiences with creative self-expression.
Other benefits of art therapy may include the following:
- Promotion of healing of emotional wounds
- Changing unhealthy or unproductive thought and behavior patterns
- Reduced denial and uncertainty and increased motivation concerning recovery
- Improved self-reflection and awareness
- Reduced feelings of shame, guilt, and stress
Music therapy consists of various music-related interventions that help individuals address a variety of physical, emotional, and social needs. During music therapy, a trained therapist engages participants and guides them through activities, such as the following:
- Listening to music for inspiration or relaxation
- Interpreting song lyrics
- Writing songs or poems as a method of self-expression
- Creating music with instruments or singing
- Moving rhythmically to music to express oneself and reduce stress
Music therapy has been shown in studies to reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, and motivate participants to enact positive change and actively engage in their treatment.
Music therapy benefits may also include helping participants do the following:
- Achieve and maintain a positive emotional state
- Express and tap into painful emotions
- Relax and reduce stress
- Discovered shared experiences with peers
- Promote communication
- Experience and enjoy a significant personal change
Overall, music therapy is intended to foster creative thinking and self-awareness, which are vital for recovery.
Adventure therapy usually takes place outdoors and may include walking, hiking, climbing, camping, horseback riding, kayaking, etc. In adventure therapy, experiencing and engaging with nature itself is therapeutic, inspiring hope and encouraging individual growth and self-confidence.
Activities employed in adventure therapy include initiative activities that involve problem-solving and collaborating with others. They also feature cooperative activities that promote positive interactions and a sense of enjoyment, as well as support-related activities that teach participants to trust and rely on others.
Adventure therapy is meant to serve as a mechanism for change. A trained therapist helps participants relate lessons learned during the adventures to their own personal experiences in recovery. The therapist also observes the stress levels of participants and ensures that each individual is achieving positive momentum.
Outdoor adventures may be beneficial for the following:
- Reducing relapse risk
- Reducing drug and alcohol cravings
- Decreasing the frequency of unpleasant thoughts
- Reducing stress
- Relieving mental fatigue
- Improving focus and concentration
- Promoting a positive outlook
- Engaging in realistic goal-setting
- Becoming better able to control impulsivity
Yoga combines controlled breathing with movement and meditation. It’s facilitated by a certified instructor who guides the class through a wide range of poses designed to improve mental and physical strength, flexibility, and endurance. The instructor may also integrate inspirational teachings or affirmations into the class to enhance spiritual benefits. A yoga session usually concludes with a few meditation moments, which may be individually-focused and not be led by the instructor.
During yoga, participants focus on their breathing and poses, which keep them in the present moment to examine better their thoughts, feelings, and overall physical state. Mindfulness increases self-awareness and self-acceptance and teaches the mind to exist in the present instead of worrying or dwelling on the past or future.
Yoga is a common option in addiction treatment programs due to its many mental and physical health benefits to individuals in recovery, such as the following:
- A higher level of mindfulness
- Greater awareness of one’s body, mind, and spirituality
- Stress relief
- Reduced symptoms of PTSD
- Decreased stress
- Decreased cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Improved physical strength
- Reduced anxiety and depression
Mindfulness meditation is the practice sitting in a quiet environment while concentrating on the breath and allowing thoughts to easily pass through the mind without reacting to them or judging them.
Meditation promotes awareness of thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses. It helps people accept their feelings and experiences for what they are instead of bury or fight them. Meditation encourages better decision-making, reduces cravings, and decreases the need to abuse substances during particularly stressful or emotional events.
A large body of research suggests that meditation is beneficial for treating the disease of addiction in the following ways:
- Reducing blood pressure and other stress responses
- Pain reduction
- Reducing depression, anxiety, and stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Helping people better respond to external events
- Fostering feelings of calm, relaxation, and peacefulness
According to studies, meditation can alter the brain’s structure by increasing its volume in areas related to emotional regulation and decision-making. It also decreases the volume of the region associated with stress, anxiety, and fear.
Experiential Therapies Support Healing
Choosing an addiction rehab program that uses a holistic approach to addiction recovery can have numerous long-term benefits. Experiential therapies allow individuals to grow and reflect and make meaningful connections with the coping mechanisms and strategies they are working on in traditional therapy.
Experiential treatments should be engaging, enjoyable, and enlightening. By integrating these activities into the recovery journey, healing and well-being can be fostered during the treatment process and beyond.
Get Help Today
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer comprehensive addiction treatment programs that feature psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more. We also offer several experiential activities, including art, music, adventure therapy, and mindfulness meditation and yoga.