By: Lea Mangus, PCSW
Have you ever heard the term “Experiential Therapy” and wondered what exactly it means? I would like to offer a brief overview of experiential therapy and what it entails. As the name indicates, experiential therapy involves activities and actions rather than the more traditional “talk therapy.” It is a therapeutic approach that encourages clients to identify and address hidden or subconscious issues through activities such as play, art, outdoor activities, and a range of other active experiences. Many people find it hard to think about, remember, or talk about their hidden hurts. After years of burying those thoughts, it can be difficult to drag those feelings to the surface and expose them. Some people find that experiential therapy helps make this process easier.
One of the many advantages of experiential therapy is that the experiences and activities that form the core of the process provide opportunities for the counselor to observe clients in situations where the client is not focused on the therapy itself. Oftentimes clients feel more willing to open up when they don’t feel confronted. Other times, memories that had been presumed lost can be recovered, “simply because your muscles, bones and the rest of your body are providing clues to the trauma your brain has been hiding”. During experiential therapy, clients are able to explore difficult emotions while being physically active. The process allows clients to live in the moment, and feel those emotions fully, instead of resorting to negative coping mechanisms.
There are many benefits of the techniques involved with experiential therapy. Research has found that clients exposed to this therapeutic approach were “more oriented in the present, able to live in the moment, rather than focusing on the past, and able to face the future with less fear”. By learning to fully experience the moment as it is happening right now, clients are better able to move forward with less anxiety. Experiential therapy can help clients improve their relationship with themselves and their experiences. Energy used in avoiding and fighting experiences is then freed up for growth and change.
Mahrer, A. R. (2004) The Complete Guide to Experiential Psychotherapy. Boulder, CO: Bull Publishing Company.