Individual and group therapy are the cornerstones of most treatment plans, and for good reason. They help people address their underlying issues and open up about their struggles in a safe space. However, experiential therapies are also important to ensure a dynamic, holistic experience that gives individuals a chance to dig a little deeper. At Choice House, we offer a number of experiential therapies alongside our other evidence-based treatments to let patients connect with themselves and others in new and exciting ways. Keep reading to learn how we utilize the power of nature, psychodrama, art and more to provide a sense of adventure and promote lasting recovery from addiction and mental illness.
WHAT IS EXPERIENTIAL THERAPY?
Experiential therapy provides an immersive, hands-on experience to addiction and mental health treatment, but it’s more than just fun and games. It’s an evidence-based approach that engages patients in expressive and challenging activities to recreate situations from the past or present, providing new insights into the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that got them where they are today. By exploring these repressed, negative emotions through art, roleplay, props, music and more, patients are able to process and release their pain to connect the dots to healing and remove any roadblocks that stand in the way of lasting recovery.
WHAT CAN IT HELP WITH?
Studies show that experiential therapies are helping in treating addiction, mental health, trauma, compulsive behaviors, eating disorders and more. It allows individuals to get involved in activities that can be a precursor to positive change, enabling them to let go of negative emotions or memories and develop new, healthier coping skills. When it comes to addiction and mental health, experiential therapy is especially useful at helping patients deal with guilt and shame that often arises during the treatment process and rebuild the confidence necessary to move forward. It also promotes strong relationships and bonds among participants as they share new experiences and grow together.
TYPES OF EXPERIENTIAL THERAPIES
ADVENTURE & OUTDOOR THERAPY
Adventure and outdoor therapy gets people outside to engage in therapeutic activities such as hiking, camping, rock climbing, skiing and more. Usually performed in a group setting, outdoor therapy challenges participants to try new things and broaden their horizons. In the process, they’ll build confidence, develop interpersonal and leadership skills, gain new insights and achieve a sense of accomplishment. At Choice House, outdoor and adventure therapy are a core component of our treatment program and include a wide range of activities. With the Rocky Mountains in our backyard, patients have ample opportunity to get outdoors, stay active and explore everything the area has to offer.
For many people, it’s difficult to unpack and address difficult topics without causing more emotional pain. Reliving moments from the past can bring up negative emotions or memories that can be harmful to the recovery process and too challenging to share. Psychodrama overcomes this hurdle by letting participants act out significant events in their lives while remaining one step removed from the situation. It incorporates dramatization, roleplay and role reversal to provide new insights into the motives of others while helping individuals gain a greater understanding of their own lives and experiences. Psychodrama is often performed in groups so participants can see things from multiple perspectives.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware and conscious of what we’re doing in the here and now, instead of focusing on past mistakes or behaviors. This can be more difficult for those with a history of mental illness, trauma or substance abuse because the past tends to exert a powerful influence, but mindfulness teaches individuals to stay present and be less reactive when faced with stressful situations. Activities that promote mindfulness include meditation, yoga, deep breathing and spending time in nature.
Animal-assisted therapy lets individuals interact and bond with animals to promote healing from issues like grief, addiction, mental illness, trauma and certain medical conditions. By forming a personal connection with a non-judgmental animal, participants build self-esteem while experiencing other benefits such as lowered stress, improved emotional health, better social skills and increased empathy. Choice House provides opportunities for animal therapy at the Song of the Wolf Healing Center, a non-profit for neglected, surrendered or unwanted wolf-dog hybrids.
Those that have experienced trauma know that it can have a real, visceral impact on the body that manifests in some surprising ways. Many people experience physical symptoms such as headaches, indigestion, muscle aches and pain as the result of past trauma, but somatic therapy can help diminish these effects by tuning into the mind-body connection. The therapeutic techniques used to help patients find relief from the physical and emotional effects of trauma include meditation, massage, breathwork, movement and grounding exercises.
Art therapy provides an outlet for self-expression through painting, drawing, modeling and more. It utilizes the creative process to enhance mental wellness and can help resolve internal conflict without the need for verbal communication. Since there’s no right or wrong way to make art, it can also improve behavioral issues, lower stress, increase self-awareness and build confidence, making it useful for people with mental health or addiction issues.
Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to experience growth and healing. Wilderness therapy does just that — it involves leaving familiar surroundings and participating in outdoor activities that promote adaptability, perseverance and resilience. Wilderness therapy is done in groups to encourage cooperation and trust among participants. It also provides a bonding experience to build strong relationships. Choice House utilizes wilderness therapy throughout treatment with 4-day excursions every six weeks.
While normally associated with children and adolescents, play therapy can also be beneficial for adults. That’s because playing can relieve stress, stimulate the mind, develop social skills and promote teamwork. It also encourages adults to have fun, something we often forget to do, especially when struggling with mental illness or addiction. At Choice House, we give patients the chance to let loose with leisurely activities like Frisbee, disc golf, kickball or cornhole, depending on an individual’s mood and preferences.
WHY DOES EXPERIENTIAL THERAPY WORK?
Experiential therapy works because it helps patients change their perceptions and get out of their heads a bit. It lets them become aware of certain thoughts or emotions that might have been buried and brings them to the surface, where they can be dealt with in a healthier way. It also helps patients form strong relationships, develop new coping skills and resolve conflict. Even if a specific activity seems unrelated to a particular issue at hand, experiential therapy is done in a way that inspires breakthroughs and stops negative behavior patterns, making it ideal to include as part of any addiction or mental health treatment plan.
Experiential therapy provides a whole-person approach to healing that helps individuals move forward in treatment and continue to make great strides toward recovery. Choice House utilizes experiential and outdoor therapies alongside traditional modalities for a well-rounded approach that promotes strength, resilience and lasting sobriety. To learn more about our recovery services in Boulder, Colorado, contact or call us today at 303-578-4975 to speak to one of our representatives and get started.