Healing Through Experiential Therapy

When an individual experiences a traumatic event it can impact the emotional, physical and spiritual state of that person. As a survival mechanism, the body and mind tend to disconnect to allow the person to cope with the unwanted experience. While traditional talk therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be helpful, experiential therapies allow the individual to access various parts of the brain not traditionally accessed by talk therapy.

Experiential therapy is just like it sounds, an experience.  This category of therapy involves actions, movements, activities, and role plays which allow the clients and clinicians to identify and address hidden or subconscious thoughts or memories . Examples of various experiential therapies include equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy, adventure therapy, psychodrama, and recreational activity.

The idea behind the practice is to take clients that have previously engaged in traditional psychotherapy and remove them from the clinical or office setting. This allows the client to take their mind off of the therapy itself and encourage them to function in the moment, thus allowing the client to let their guard down and promote open dialogue.

During an experiential activity, clients are given the opportunity to experience success, identify obstacles, increase self-esteem, and claim responsibility for their actions. If clients are participating in a group experiential exercise, they are given a chance to build trust, learn to work as a member of a team, gain a sense of belonging, and ideally experience the need to ask for help. Both during the activity and immediately following, the client or group of clients take a moment to process the feelings and emotions that come up during that exercise, this allows the clinician a chance to offer feedback and guide the client/s to understand their decisions, actions, and reactions.

As a secondary benefit of experiential activities, clients have the opportunity to learn new and healthy ways to fill their time that was once occupied by unhealthy coping skills. Often time’s people forget how to ‘have fun.’ They can become engrossed in their negative thoughts and believe that they can no longer find happiness in simple leisure activity. Recreational activity can help these clients reprogram how their brain reacts to positive stimuli and allow for enjoyment to overcome the need to hide or use other unhealthy coping skills.

At The Refuge, we use a variety of experiential exercises to help the clients find the root of their trauma that is not allowing them to function to their full potential. Some of our programs include equine therapy, ropes course, breath work, meditation, yoga, and recreational activity.

The Refuge also offers many recreational activities for the clients, such as canoeing, pontoon boat trips, bowling outings, campus field days, karaoke, game night, and various sporting events. The idea behind the recreational activities is to help the clients understand how to have ‘sober fun.’ Once they leave the serene and safe property of treatment, they must have the tools available to continue their journey of recovery and sobriety. Allowing them to experience guided recreational activities in treatment will help them find such events in their new day-to-day life and hoping they will use these coping skills instead of slipping back into negative behaviors.The ropes course offered by The Refuge allows clients to build trust, teamwork, and self-determination by asking them to participate in a series of both low and high rope activities. Many clients experience fear and/or anxiety before performing one of the challenges, and we ask that they fight through that barrier to accomplish the task at hand, thus gaining a sense of success and perseverance.

All in all, experiential therapy is a process to help individuals connect their mind, body, and soul. It allows the person to step outside the realm of traditional talk-therapy and physically experience their growth and change. All of which fits in perfectly to the holistic approach used here at The Refuge-A  Healing Place.