Experiential therapy activities include methods that trained therapists use with clients that struggle to express themselves or properly identify their emotions surrounding their life experiences. The idea behind this therapeutic method is that through re-experiencing or focusing on an emotional experience that is housed in our subconscious, individuals can gain awareness of emotions, attitudes, and beliefs that were not at the forefront of their minds.
Experiential therapy also focuses on individuals looking to gain greater emotional openness and resilience that will help them face future experiences. Through reenactment of specific experiences from the past or present, patients are able to role-play their way toward a greater understanding of what they went through and what they learned from it.
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In experiential therapy, therapists use props, art, role-play, animals, and more to help an individual feel connected to that experience. The goal is to not only bring awareness, perspective, and understanding but to also teach clients healthy coping mechanisms to use for future challenges.
Types of Issues that Benefit From this Therapy
- Behavioral Disorders
- Anger Management
- Eating Disorders
- Compulsive Behaviors
Experiential therapy benefits individuals battling these issues by teaching them how to cope and how to let go of negative emotions and gain insight into their own life. For example, if an individual experienced something traumatic in their youth that they now struggle to remember the details of but still battle with the fear, shame, and emotional expressions of that experience, experiential therapy activities can help them navigate through those cloudy or painful memories and learn how to cope with them, releasing any shame, fear, guilt, or otherwise in the process.
Great Experiential Therapy Activities
Equine-Assisted Therapy is a type of experiential therapy activity that has clients interacting with horses. Clients groom, feed, lead, and sometimes ride the horse in conjunction with traditional experiential therapy. As clients go through these activities, they keep them grounded as their therapist guides them through treatment, helping them sort through unfinished business in their subconscious.
Expressive therapy is an experiential therapy activity that gives clients an opportunity to “express” or release negative feelings through art. This is a subjective activity that has no correct way to be executed. Clients are instructed to focus on the negative feelings that surround an experience and release them onto their art project. This could be paint, clay, drawing, or any other form of art that allows for expressive creativity. The goal is that by the end of the project, the client will see a physical representation of the negative feelings that no longer have a hold on their minds and are, instead, on the paper.
Journaling is a common activity “prescribed” by therapists to help their clients explore their emotions surrounding different experiences in their life. As an experiential therapy activity, journaling is a great way for clients to identify what events specifically trigger or impact them.
Experiential therapy activities hinge on the idea that past experiences can hold us back when not properly processed or when not coped within a healthy way. Mindfulness is a great experiential therapy activity that can teach a client how to live in the here and now as they navigate those past experiences in a more constructive way.
Roleplaying is not the only way to help connect a person to their past experiences. Through the physical use of one’s body, one can learn new skills and start to connect in other ways. Wilderness activities can be a great way to help a client use their body while exploring their past while keeping them grounded in nature.
Music therapy is an evidence-based practice that trained therapists can use to help clients address emotional, cognitive, social, and other needs through the use of music. Music creates an emotional response that can be used to help relax, heal, or express one’s emotions tied to experiences in their life. This makes it a great tool for applying experiential therapy.
For younger clients, like children, experiential play therapy might be a great tool. Through symbolism in play therapy, clients can express their feelings. the child uses fantasy or metaphors to their therapist with whom they have built trust to shed light on difficult situations. Therapists can use this experiential therapy activity to identify negative emotions surrounding that child’s experience that they might not have been able to express on their own.
The ultimate goal of experiential therapy is to help individuals navigate the negative, painful, fearful, or even shameful emotions they have surrounding any number of experiences. By the end of your time with a client, they should feel like they can release those feelings and have learned healthy coping strategies for future challenges they may face.