Experiential Therapy

Using Experiential Therapy to Treat Addiction

Beach City Detox incorporates experiential processes as part of our residential treatment program.  The result of having our clients participate in experiential activities is that quite often our client will have a personal breakthrough that has a positive impact on their ability to manage stress or let go of past behaviors and roadblocks.

What is Experiential Therapy?

There are a range of therapeutic processes that can fall under the categorization of ‘experiential therapy.’  Typically, they involve ‘hands on’ activities that are guided by a facilitator.  The experiential activities provide fun and stress relief.  Sometimes they are competitive and challenging. and sometimes they are fun.

There are some instances when clients that are suffering from substance abuse and alcoholism may feel uncomfortable talking to a therapist or in joining group therapy. What Experiential Therapy does is put clients in environments wherein they feel at ease and comfortable. This could be places that seem unconventional settings for therapy like the outdoors and other settings outside the realm of normal therapies.

The idea of Experiential Therapy is about gaining a wider perspective and understanding a client’s self-perception through observing and experiencing how they react behaviorally and emotionally as they participate in a purposeful activity. Experiential therapeutic methods were created to give a client authentic experiences that draw emotions, attitude and self-principles underlying their subconscious mind to unfold into the client’s awareness.

Types of Experiential Therapy

These are common Experiential Therapies according to Addiction.com

1. Psychodrama

Psychodrama is usually done with other individuals in therapy because of the role-playing aspect of the therapy. It start with a member taking the role of a protagonist with other members taking supporting roles. The dramatization of a conflict or situation represents a deeper issue for each member playing a role. This helps individuals see and approach the problem in a different view. It helps individuals explore and resolve issues and conflicts internally and externally.

2. Gestalt Therapy

The Gestalt Therapy is one of the earliest and distinguished types of Experiential Therapy, which deals with the development of personal responsibility, living in the present, and take care of grudges and unfinished business. Role play used in this therapy, wherein a chair, an empty chair for that matter represents a person, emotion or repressed feelings. The sits face to face with the empty chair and begin a conversation with the empty chair to work on the issues an individual is having with a particular person, emotion or repressed feelings.

3. Adventure Therapy

Adventure Therapy as the name suggests is all about doing adventurous activities. Adventure Therapy is designed to help individuals learn how to be;

– responsible

-to be self-aware

-to care about others

-to be assertive

-to think critically when solving a problem

-and to be able to work with other people

These activities are done to overcome real-world stresses and challenges.

4. Art Therapy / Music Therapy

Art Therapy and Music Therapy encourage individuals to express their feelings through art and music. This two types of therapy can be used to by the therapist to learn a lot about an individuals repressed emotions and traumatic memories. Art Therapy and Music Therapy can also bring about change in an individual’s self-perception, increase self-confidence, and improved social interaction with people, friends, and family.

How Experiential Therapy Works


The premise of Experiential Therapy is determining a client’s behavior by their perception of the world around them and how they react. This is done by experiencing activities that simulate real-world stressor and releasing repressed negative emotions and feelings from the past. This helps the client to learn how to express feelings such as love, calmness and forgiveness. This also changes their general view point towards life.

These activities are commonly physically demanding and is designed to help boost self-esteem by being at peace with the traumas and emotions inflicted by their addiction and dependency. The physicality if the activities simulate real-world stress for clients to succeed on. Experiential Therapy teach clients on how to cope and deal with triggers and cravings.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy


The benefits of Experiential Therapy depends on the openness of the client to treatment and the therapist’s communicating the importance of Experiential Therapy and the activities that it entails. Clients were found to be more oriented in the present rather than being trapped in the past or fantasizing about the future.

Due to the effort required by the activities, client were able to live in the moment rather than dwelling in the past. Clients are also able to face the future with optimism and confidence. Clients graduating from Experiential Therapy live to be very independent and productive individuals.