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Experiential therapy is a broad term for many types of psychotherapy. Different from the traditional “talk therapy” that comes to mind when we use the word psychotherapy, experiential therapy for addiction involves actions, movements and activities.

The intent of experiential psychotherapy is to grow self-awareness. As self-awareness increases, there is a decrease in dissociation and avoidance.1 This type of therapy allows clients to get in touch with their innermost needs and wants, motives and emotions.

Negative emotions that have been suppressed are destructive. Once identified, these negative emotions and feelings can be processed in healthy ways that facilitate healing.

Examples of experiential therapy include recreational therapy, equine-assisted therapy, art therapy, music therapy and psychodrama.

Experiential Therapy for Addiction Utilizing Psychodrama

Psychodrama, also called role playing, is one popular and beneficial use of experiential therapy for addiction that’s often held in a group setting. One participant takes on the role of protagonist, while others in the group take on supporting roles. A dramatization of a certain problem or scenario (for example, an unresolved conflict) takes place. The group members have the opportunity to view situations from a different perspective, explore new behaviors and internal conflicts and work through hurtful and distressing emotions.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy for Addiction

There are many positive benefits to using experiential therapy for addiction, including:2

  • Increases stress management skills
  • Enhances the client/therapist relationship
  • Improves the ability to focus on the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or future
  • Reduces perceived distress
  • Increases the sense of personal control
  • Improves body image perception
  • Improves focus and coordination
  • Improves communication skills
  • Reduces destructive, impulsive and compulsive behaviors
  • Increases self-esteem and confidence
  • Increases the ability to follow direction
  • Increases the capacity to be independent
  • Improves cooperation with others
  • Increases motivation
  • Greater empathy and compassion
  • Decreases depressive symptoms, anxiety and stress
  • Improves leadership and interpersonal skills
  • Increases coping and problem-solving skills
  • Increases self-awareness
  • Develops positive anger-management skills
  • Increases creativity

Is Experiential Therapy for Addiction Right for You?

Our nonverbal perceptions, motives, drives and emotions make up a majority of our experiences. Examples of experiential occurrences include being hungry and feeling angry. Experiential therapy links perceptions, motivations and emotions to how we approach or avoid certain states. These links form how we act and respond emotionally.3

Experiential therapies focus on nonverbally exploring these perceptions, motives, drives and emotions. You and your therapist will decide if this form of therapy will help you overcome the issues you’re facing. You’re a good candidate for experiential therapy if you have:

  • An addiction
  • A mental illness coupled with addiction
  • Experienced physical or sexual abuse
  • Difficulty expressing your thoughts without becoming angry or upset
  • Uncomfortable feelings when talking about your past