What is Experiential Therapy?
Experiential therapy is a therapeutic technique that uses expressive activities and tools such as art, movement, role-playing, enactment, various forms of recreation, music, and even nature, often in conjunction with traditional talk therapy. It is not just one form of therapeutic intervention, but several different types of therapy and therapeutic interventions designed to involve an individual more fully in the therapeutic process. Experiential therapy is meant to help clients safely explore and sometimes re-experience past and current situations in their lives to learn and heal. Through participating in the activities, a client is better able to access memories, thoughts, and feelings and explore their meaning with the help of the therapist.
Using “hands-on” methods helps get the individual involved in a process of interaction and creation that allows for the development of insight and realization into the nature of their inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences. These realizations, like the realizations that occur in various forms of talk therapy, allow the individual to develop insight and learn about themselves and their needs and figure out proactive methods to address these.
Experiential therapy can be used for the treatment of a variety of problems and situations: trauma, eating disorders, anger management, grief and loss, and substance abuse are just some of the areas. Experiential methods can be very helpful for those who are wanting to let go of painful and unhappy feelings from the past, wish to change relationship patterns, heal family wounds, or who are just striving to live up to their full potential.
What to Look for in an Experiential Therapist
Experiential therapy may be done in an individual or group setting. For individual and group counseling, look for a licensed and experienced clinician with additional training and experience in a specific experiential approach, such as art therapy or psychodrama. Some therapies require specific certifications or credentials. Either way, you should feel safe and comfortable working with the therapist you choose. A clinician should always share their therapeutic approach with you from the beginning and may even have specific forms for you to read and sign for permission. Remember, it is always up to the client as to whether or not you want to participate in these experiential methods. Ask questions if you are unsure. You should never feel pressured or coerced into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. At the same time, experiential methods are widely used in therapeutic and educational settings and have been found to be very effective and meaningful for people. In clinical or medical settings, always stick with reputable, state-licensed, or certified practitioners or treatment centers staffed with licensed, professional, mental health care workers.
Greenberg LS, Safran J, Rice L. Experiential Therapy: Its relation to cognitive therapy. Comprehensive Handbook of Cognitive Therapy. 169-187.
Mahrer AR. Experiential Psychotherapy. Current Psychotherapies. Handbook of Innovative Therapies. 2001.
About the author:
After several years of working in various nonprofit organizations with children, youth and adults, Cintra Harbold received a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University in Baltimore and became a psychotherapist.
She firmly believes in the “Mind-Body” connection, so as a therapist she tries to make each therapy session as engaging and interactive as possible. In addition to “talk” therapy, she may incorporate art, movement, role play, nature, or music into the session. The goal is to help clients gain new insight into themselves and their life through creative and experiential counseling techniques.