Experiential therapy teaches people to explore their thoughts, feelings, and emotions through expressive activities and interventions.
What is experiential therapy?
Experiential therapy is a multi-sensory approach that uses out-of-the-box tools and interventions to support a person’s healing process. It’s a broad term that encompasses a wide range of methods—such as music, props, and animal care therapy—in addition to talk therapy.
The idea behind experiential therapy is that a person’s perception determines their behavior. With experiential therapy, people have a chance to reenact or otherwise engage with past experiences to help them overcome any negative or buried emotions that are associated with those experiences.
With the support of a trained experiential therapist, experiential therapy can help people resolve past conflicts and pursue healthy relationships going forward. Experiential therapy can lead to countless benefits, including improved:
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Ability to overcome emotional distress
- Ability to focus on the present
How it works
Experiential therapists at Charlie Health support our clients through the use of various experiential tools, hands-on activities, and immersive experiences. Experiential therapy is rooted in the belief that healing occurs in the experience itself. Through experience and action, clients are able to connect with hard-to-reach feelings, learn healthy coping skills, and re-enact emotional experiences in order to have new and more adequate responses to situations.
During an experiential therapy session, a therapist will invite you to engage in a specific activity or intervention—such as painting, moving, or time spent interacting with nature. They might ask you to explain how the intervention makes you think and feel, or sometimes they will simply observe.
Experiential therapy occurs in individual and group settings and comes in many forms. Examples of experiential therapy methods include:
Art therapy uses non-verbal practices like drawing, finger painting, and photography to improve a person’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
Active music therapy—composing, singing, or playing an instrument—and receptive music therapy—listening or responding to music—were designed to address mental, physical, cognitive, and social issues that can impact a person's health.
Dance/movement therapy uses movement to access, understand, and change emotions.
- Role-playing and acting
Psychodramatic techniques involve enacting or dramatizing a problem, conflict, or past event and often incorporate role playing to allow clients to move beyond talking and into action, and creating new, corrective emotional experiences.
- Guided imagery
Sometimes called visualization, guided meditation uses sights, smells, sounds, and textures to help people create mental images of places or situations that they find relaxing. Guided imagery therapy can also be a part of yoga and mindfulness practices.
- Nature-based therapy
Nature-based therapy in the virtual setting involves nature appreciation through natural objects that we have indoors, learning about ways to utilize the outdoors for mental and physical health, and even viewing immersive nature experiences online.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
With EMDR, people visualize a traumatic event while being directed through different eye movements by the therapist.
- Expressive Arts Therapy
Incorporates art, drama, music, writing, psychodrama, dance, and play through a multi-modal approach to creative expression for healing.
- Play Therapy
Hands-on form of therapy that often involves games, activities, art, and free expression through play.
- Recreation Therapy
Supports multiple domains of health and wellbeing through leisure activities and education, life skills, and therapeutic exercises that focus on improving self esteem and encouraging social interaction.
Involves writing, reading, and sharing our stories through storytelling.
- Sand Tray Therapy
Create worlds, explore relationships, and express feelings through use of a virtual sand tray web application.
Other examples of experiential therapy techniques include props, animal therapy (usually involving horses and dogs), food and nutrition, martial arts, and gentle physical fitness.
It’s also important to note that in order for experiential therapy to be effective, a person should feel comfortable with their chosen intervention. While one person might prefer to focus on music instead of martial arts, another might find that the more active technique allows them to confidently connect with their wants, desires, and emotions.
Who should try experiential therapy?
Experiential therapy can be used to help anyone who wants to release painful memories, improve current or future relationships, or live a more balanced and fulfilling life. It’s considered to be an effective form of treatment for a variety of mental and behavioral health conditions, including:
- Behavior disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Anger management
- Grief and loss recovery
- Relationship and family conflicts
- Panic disorders
Can I practice from home?
You may be wondering how to experience experiential therapy from the comfort of your home or designated safe space. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program is designed to help people understand and overcome their mental health struggles using a multi-pronged approach to care—including with experiential therapy.
While equine-assisted therapy or martial arts may be challenging to conduct remotely, there are countless ways to work with your therapist from home. For example, virtual sand tray therapy allows a person to create a narrative with virtual sand and small objects while sharing a story with their therapist. Music, meditation, journaling, and art are also all feasible activities that enable a person to stay engaged while sharing their thoughts and feelings with their therapist. You can connect with nature by simply observing what’s going on outside of your bedroom window, or by taking a guided walk with a virtual group.
We suggest working with your therapist to find an experiential therapy technique that feels right for you.
At Charlie Health, experiential therapy is integrated into each client’s personalized treatment program to foster holistic, sustainable healing.
Experiential therapy at Charlie Health
If you’re looking for an experiential therapist to support your healing journey, Charlie Health can help. Our team of compassionate mental health professionals are here to listen to your story, understand your needs, and match you with an appropriate treatment plan. Learn more today.