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Experiential Therapies

Experiential therapy is a therapeutic approach based primarily on the belief that experiencing a different kind of activity is the best way to heal. This method encourages patients to fully experience their thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that they can develop different skills that will help them be more productive in their daily lives. It is expected that these essential coping skills would be sufficient and effective so that the patient will be able to make a more complete recovery.

Experiential Therapies (2)

There are many kinds of therapeutic interventions under experiential therapy. Some of the more common types involve patients participating in different activities not normally associated with conventional treatment such as music therapy, art therapy, play therapy, and outdoor therapy, which is steadily rising in popularity because of its many features:

Outdoor Therapy

This kind of therapy involves participation in various outdoor activities such as white water rafting, hiking, rock climbing, camping, and backpacking. Outdoor therapy relies on the healing power of nature as well as the many life lessons that can be learned while carrying out the different adventures and activities.

While outdoor therapy can be informal and unstructured, many studies support the countless therapeutic benefits that it offers such as the following:

  • Realization of one’s role and connection with nature as well as the impact of one’s actions and decision on others
  • Development of the values of trust, teamwork, accountability, and accepting responsibility for one’s actions
  • Better understanding and use of the concept of control
  • Improved feelings of joy, peace, and self-esteem

Music, art, play, and outdoor therapies, among others, work by getting patients to participate in activities that promote creation or interaction for them to get in touch with their inmost thoughts and feelings.

Other forms of experiential therapy do not involve much physical experiences but rather centers on fully experiencing emotions. The aim is to foster understanding of emotions and how they affect the patient’s behavior and reactions. Popular examples of such therapeutic interventions include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This treatment method is anchored on the belief that learning processes play a vital role in substance abuse and other hurtful behaviors. Patients who participate in CBT learn how to accurately identify and rectify problematic behaviors as well as foresee potential issues by using essential life skills and coping strategies.

Experiential Therapies

Regarding substance abuse disorder, CBT aids the patient in carefully assessing the positive and negative implications of drug use; in identifying potential situations that can trigger drug use; and in developing strategies to avoid such situations while at the same time using coping mechanisms to help with the cravings.

The many kinds of studies done over the years suggest that the critical life skills learned by patients who participated in CBT stay with them even after the completion of their drug treatment program. This is the reason cognitive behavioral therapy is deemed one of the best approaches for preventing relapse.

Family therapy

This kind of therapy primarily utilizes the strength and support of the family members to aid the patient undergoing drug rehab to stop abusing and start living without using drugs and alcohol. Apart from helping in the treatment process, family therapy also aims, in part, to lessen the damaging effects of the substance abuse to the whole family.

Some of the common interventions applied during family therapy include the following:

  • Assessment and discussion of family roles
  • Finding and determining ways to improve communication and rebuild damaged trust
  • Learning to identify helpful and unhelpful behavior.
  • Identification of various ways to interact with every member
  • Determination and solution of family conflict, abuse, and other issues

Patients who actively participate in family therapy during rehab experience numerous gains such as a clearer understanding of the reality of addiction and how the same impacts others; realization of how their family interacts; improved communication and openness among members; clarification of boundaries; and appreciation and learning about self-care.

Group therapy

As the name suggests, this kind of therapy involves treatment intervention for two or more people who, unlike in family therapy, have no relationship with one another outside the therapy session. The session is guided and facilitated by a trained specialist.

Group therapy has been found to provide patients with the following benefits:

  • Considering that every patient who is involved in group therapy is battling drug addiction, it is easy for everyone to feel comfortable and at ease.  This helps to foster openness, especially when there is a need to discuss one’s innermost fears, feelings, and concerns.
  • No matter how a family member tries to understand what the patient is going through, nothing can beat the understanding of fellow patients who are undergoing the same struggles.  In group therapy, the patients can offer support and encouragement to each other so that they can carry on with the treatment program.
  • The experiences of other patients can serve as an effective opportunity for another to learn about potential challenges and problems that can be encountered on the way to full recovery and how all these things can be effectively addressed.
  • The patients attending group therapy can build lasting friendships which can help them stay on the proper course even when they are already done with the treatment program.  They can uplift those who are having a rough time and serve as an inspiration to continue moving forward.

While the various forms of experiential therapy discussed above differ in methods and execution, all of them essentially provide the patient with opportunities to…

  • Identify real problems and challenges
  • Improve self-esteem and self-reliance
  • Accept greater responsibility for their actions
  • Assess and evaluate his behavior and responses
  • Improve emotional health
  • Be more productive

It is important to note that while it is undeniable that experiential therapy is beneficial for people suffering from substance use disorder, nobody can deny that it is still heavily dependent on the skills and experience of the therapist. We at Chiron, are confident to assure our patients that our team of specialists has the competence and expertise to carry out this kind of therapy.


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