This type of therapy approaches addiction treatment by tailoring it to the individual person. It is a unique type of therapy that focuses on the acknowledgement and acceptance of past experiences and emotions. It provides people who have drug or alcohol addictions with the tools necessary to identify and cultivate emotions that lead to positive and sustainable behavioral change.
What is Experiential Therapy?
This is an alternative type of addiction therapy that uses activities to create an environment for emotional expression. It allows people to interact in a larger variety of ways than they would in more traditional therapy settings which may provide insight into thoughts or behaviors that might not be apparent during one-on-one therapy. It also allows people to learn things such as how to communicate more effectively with others, how to enjoy free time without substance use, and how to deal with stressful situations.
Emotions are a strong component of addiction. Emotional behavior can cause psychological and physiological changes in the body. During drug or alcohol use, the brain experiences states of euphoria created by dopamine release. The brain tries to balance this extreme positive emotional state by counteracting it with an extreme negative emotional state.
The extreme positive and negative emotional states experienced through substance use damages the rewards center of the brain; this is why people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol can experience anxiety, irritability, and other negative emotions.
After successful completion of a treatment program, people are unfortunately still susceptible to relapse. Cravings for drugs or alcohol can be triggered by stress or other cues that make it difficult to resist the urge to use. From a neurobiological sense, the brain has been reorganized to seek the extreme emotional rewards of drugs and alcohol during stressful, emotional times, and this causes the chronic condition of addiction. Addiction treatment teaches people to recognize possible triggers and how to deal with them in a healthy manner.
Chronic addiction has many negative emotional effects on not only the person with the substance use issue, but also their family and friends. This can lead to shame, anger, and social isolation. Therapy provides an outlet for negative emotions, so you can understand and release these emotions while developing positive ones that promote recovery.
In this kind of therapy, therapists focus on raw, current emotion rather than the interpretation of that emotion. In other words, they focus on identifying present emotion rather that burdening it with reflections of the past. The therapist and the client in treatment work on being aware of ‘the present’ during activities and avoid ruminating over the past and letting it foster urges to partake in drug or alcohol use.
The therapist is not an autocratic commander and is not running a boot camp to force change. Rather, the therapist’s goal is to develop an authentic relationship with the person struggling with addiction. They allow the person to develop self-esteem, responsibility, and self-control through their own means. The therapist is more like a coach to guide you on your path to recovery. This creates self-empowerment and healthy, positive rewards as you increase your sense of worth and gain the power to control your addiction.
Experiential activities highlight the many modes of expression that mimic the energy of actual life. Activities such as creating art or hiking allow you to practice recovery with the guidance of the therapist who will help you focus on the present.
How is experiential therapy used to treat drug and alcohol addiction?
Promising results have also been found in treating drug and alcohol addiction through positive experiences. Multiple types of mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have also been found to respond well to these practices.
One of the biggest hurdles that many people with drug or alcohol addictions have to overcome is the propensity to be defensive, which can prevent progress when it comes to sobriety. After having years of conflict with friends and family, any attempts to provide help can be interpreted as attacks. Experiential treatments can be beneficial because they allow you to feel more comfortable and relaxed than you might in a typical therapy environment. This can be helpful for both you and your therapist; you will be able to open up and share your thoughts more easily and the counselor will be able to gain insight into your emotions as you do so.
The type of experiences you have during therapy can also allow you to recall and deal with the past. Even if you do not know or remember exactly what experiences or memories may have contributed to substance use, you can tap into the feelings that tend to occur when you feel like using alcohol or drugs.
This type of therapy encourages you to feel and process emotions, which can lead to some difficult moments as you begin to resolve these issues. However, the therapy environment is supportive, and your counselor will be able to help you make progress. Dealing with these emotions effectively through therapy allows you to put the past behind you and work on your present life as you create a healthy future.
What Types of Activities Are Used in Experiential Therapy?
There are many activities that can be used in therapy. The therapist ensures that your treatment plan includes engaging in activities that allow you to express the underlying emotions that can be hurdles in recovery while building life skills and self-confidence. Some common activities are:
Wilderness therapy. Being outdoors is a healthy way for people to build self-reliance during addiction treatment. Hiking and camping encourage people to utilize survival skills. It also provides an activity where goals can be set and achieved. Wilderness therapy is also good for building relationships between the client and the therapist or the client and a group.
Adventure therapy. Excitement during activities such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting, or zip lining can allow a person who is overcoming addiction to experience emotional highs and lows that allows them to take note of how they handle those emotional fluctuations. These types of activities also build trust and accountability as the adventure typically involves some aspect of safety that must be adhered to.
Meditation. There are many types of meditation and they are all gentle ways of getting in touch with the behavioral aspects of the brain. The key to meditation lies in mindfulness, which involves memory and awareness. Memory in this context is not thinking about the past; instead, it is remembering to observe the body and the goals you are trying to accomplish. Awareness involves being cognizant of emotional responses and any problems that may arise while handling those responses. Meditation is an effective way to manage stress and it can help you develop coping mechanisms that you can use throughout your entire life. Some types of mediation are very silent and still; others focus on deep-breathing techniques or other activities to create a mindful state. People participating in meditation aim to develop control over emotions so that they can more objectively evaluate their emotions as they present themselves during recovery.
Yoga & exercise. Yoga can be likened to a more active form of meditation. This specific type of therapy can be empowering to those who feel helpless in their addiction. Yoga programs can be designed to follow 12-step programs or address codependency. This is accomplished by providing a solo activity that brings invigoration to the participant. Exercise is also about breaking down barriers, as daily exercise programs address the struggle for personal improvement. Gyms provide activities in which the participant can release emotions, but they also teach people how to create attainable goals that are reached one day at a time, similar to sobriety. Exercise is also an easily-accessible alternative to drug and alcohol abuse.
Tai Chi. Tai Chi is an activity that can be likened to a slow dance of martial arts. The purposefully slow breathing and gentle movements used during Tai Chi are relaxing and liberating, which aids in the sometimes-stressful recovery process.
Art therapy. Not all experiential therapy is physically active, and art therapy is one way that people can explore issues and emotions. Forms of art such as photography, painting, writing, or sculpture can help participants express their problems and challenges when words don’t seem to be enough. Creating art can also help those who are reluctant to speak have a creative outlet that helps them to find the words necessary to engage in effective treatment.
Role playing. One of the biggest challenges to recovery is going back to normal life where you may be presented with opportunities to engage in drug or alcohol use. This can cause stress and social isolation. Role playing lets people practice saying no in a way that makes them feel comfortable and in a situation that is similar to real-life scenarios. It can also teach people to avoid codependent relationships, improve communication skills, and increase confidence in their own ability to remain sober. Depending on the circumstance, role playing can be a group activity or it can be practiced with just you and your therapist in an individual setting.
Equine-assisted therapy. Horses are majestic creatures that can be very helpful in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction through equine therapy. Learning to care for, feed, and groom a horse teaches responsibility. It also allows you learn to regain control and trust that can apply to other aspects of your life as you learn how to successfully build a trusting relationship with the animal.
How effective is experiential therapy?
Experiential therapy has been found to be very effective for substance use treatment. Depending on your circumstances, it will likely be combined with traditional forms of therapy or other treatments. Because each treatment plan is designed at a patient-specific level, it has the propensity to be more effective than one-size-fits-all approaches to treatment.
This type of therapy can teach you to be more cooperative, have greater empathy, increase your trust in others, and facilitate team work. These are all skills that make it easier to navigate day-to-day life and seek out resources to help you remain sober after treatment.
Overall, this style of therapy is very effective, although just like any type of treatment, the results will vary between each person and the specific type of activity. Some individual activities, such as meditation, have shown very high efficacy in some studies. However, therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why we work with each client to develop a treatment plan that is most likely to be successful for their specific circumstances.
What is the difference between traditional and experiential therapy?
Experiential and traditional therapy have both shown positive results in drug addiction treatment, but each comes from a different perspective. Traditional therapy typically focuses on discussion between the client and the therapist. It may include the questioning of thought processes and exploration of past events. These thoughts are sometimes challenged by the therapist, and the client is encouraged to make positive behavioral changes. Traditional therapy methods are very effective, but they can fall short in some domains such as when it comes to practicing communication skills, developing enjoyable habits, or learning to deal with frustrating situations.
Experiential therapy focuses on the present by allowing people to participate in activities that bring up challenges from the past but in a way that allows the person to accept and process them. These therapies also help participants to engage in discussions that may be more difficult to have during individual therapy.
While both therapies are helpful and effective for treating addiction, experiential therapy is different mostly in its use of activities as a mode of expression and way to develop tools for recovery.
Is substance use treatment using experiential therapy available near me in Scottsdale, Arizona?
Experiential therapy treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is available in Scottsdale, Arizona at Pinnacle Peak Recovery. We have trained, compassionate professionals who are ready to get you or your loved one the treatment they need to begin their recovery.
Our therapists can help you develop the tools and skills that are a key component of successful addiction treatment. In addition to experiential treatment, we also offer individual counseling including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, EMDR, and dual-diagnosis treatment.
Pinnacle Peak Recovery embraces a holistic approach to recovery, incorporating aspects that mend your mind, body, and spirit to create an opportunity for true, lasting change.
Contact us today to learn more or get started.
At Pinnacle Peak Recovery in Arizona, we are committed to the success of each and every one of our clients. Recovering from addiction is a difficult process, but it can be made easier with help from our highly skilled staff who utilize evidence-based therapies to facilitate recovery.
We’ve helped many people just like you and your loved ones recover from the personal and familial effects of substance use. Allow us to help you begin your personalized journey to sobriety by calling today at 866-377-4413.