What Is Experiential Therapy?

What is experiential therapy? Read on to learn more about its benefits and how to seek experiential therapy at Essence Healthcare today.


Experiential therapy is an expressive therapeutic technique that encourages change using objective therapy exercises, including acting, guided imagery, role-play, music, and arts, to help patients relive certain moments or emotions, either past or recent. Re-enacting or re-experiencing such moments helps individuals identify and process their thoughts and emotions more healthily.

Experiential therapy is rooted in humanistic principles emphasizing that humans are actively involved in constructing their realities; therefore, experiential therapy focuses on the individual rather than the symptoms.1

Who Is Experiential Therapy For?

Experiential therapy has proven helpful in grief and loss recovery, eating disorders, depression, trauma, substance use disorders, anger management, and many others. However, in cases of experiential therapy for addiction treatment, experiential psychotherapy can be used alongside other treatments for addiction recovery.

In addition, experiential therapy is very helpful for individuals suffering from physical and behavioral addictions. It is also commonly used by marriage and family therapists. Experiential therapy greatly helps patients who have to overcome obstacles to begin or continue recovery by accessing past or present emotional experiences.2

Experiential Therapy activities

How Does Experiential Therapy Work?

Experiential psychotherapy helps with self-interaction making an individual aware of their internal representation of the world, thoughts, and emotions. This awareness enables individuals to learn more about themselves, their thoughts and feelings, and more adequate methods to address them. By re-enacting moments or situations, experiential therapy helps people release repressed negative thoughts and emotions, giving room for positive feelings and changing their view of reality. Also, when people focus on experiential therapy activities, they become less guarded and deliver authentic emotions and reactions. 

How Effective Is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is effective in improving an individual’s psychological coping skills. A study on people involved in an experiential therapy program reported a reduction in psychological stress and progress in psychological well-being soon after commencement.3

Experiential therapy is effective in many individuals and can be used for people who did not respond actively to talk therapy. In addition, experiential therapy can be used alongside other recovery treatments, like in cases of using experiential therapy for addiction treatment to make it more effective.

Types of Experiential Therapy

There are various types of experiential therapy; however, a professional often recommends a variant based on the individual’s diagnosis. The method to be used depends on an individual’s personal preference. After trying out a variant of the types of experiential therapy, it is okay to try out another if it does not work out. Common types of experiential therapy will be detailed below.

Drama Therapy or Psychodrama

This is an action-based group psychotherapeutic technique that involves patients telling their story through role-playing or movement before an audience of fellow patients or therapists, some of whom could participate in the storytelling. Psychodrama involves an individual dramatizing their problems. In some cases, guided by a therapist, patients switch roles amongst themselves so they can observe and react to themselves as outsiders. Psychodrama helps to impart learning by integrating emotions, sensations, and thoughts. bibendum. Duis semper, ipsum sed euismod finibus, ligula lectus mollis eros, sit amet vehicula metus diam faucibus metus. Etiam sit amet tristique leo, ut ultricies justo. Vestibulum consequat eros nisi, at commodo nibh molestie vel. Pellentesque vulputate risus sit amet ullamcorper bibendum.

Music Therapy

Music therapy uses music to achieve and address other goals. For example, songwriting, listening to music, and lyrics analysis fulfill movement, cognitive, speech, and mental health goals. Music therapy addresses individuals’ physical and emotional needs because music is a powerful and easily accessible medium allowing them to move, listen to or create music.5

Art Therapy

Art therapy uses creative processes to aid an individual’s well-being. Art therapy focuses on artistic procedures like sculpting or painting to develop self-awareness and reduce negative emotions and thoughts. Art therapy can integrate deep feelings; perfection or commercial value is less important than self-expression. Art therapy can also be used as a part of experiential therapy activities for group therapy because it promotes social interaction.6

Play Therapy

Play therapy is one of the forms of experiential therapy techniques that is usually used for children. The therapist uses playtime to observe and gain insights into the child’s state of mind because children may not be able to convey or communicate their problems or emotions like adults. Play therapy is often used in children ages 3 to 12. It can help address aggressive behaviors, losing a loved one, or neglect and abuse. Experiential therapy for teens is also available.

Poetry Therapy

involves the therapeutic use of poems, narratives, and spoken or written media to foster healing and mental well-being. Poetry helps express emotions that might be otherwise difficult and allows individuals to have a different perspective on their situation by showing better ways of observing reality.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy involves a person spending time with a trained therapy pet. These animals help people cope and recover from mental or physical health conditions. Depending on the therapy function, individuals can use animals like dogs, horses, and birds. This therapy can be especially useful in experiential therapy for addiction treatment, as many have issues relating to other people.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapies involve wilderness and outdoor expeditions. These adventure activities aid the healing process. Adventure therapy teaches individuals to keep themselves safe, build resilience, improve self-efficiency, listen, and learn emotional regulation skills as they push themselves to accomplish various tasks.

Uses of Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy is very useful in improving an individual’s ability to cope psychologically. Experiential psychotherapy is patient based and helps individuals release repressed negative emotions by reliving the experience. Most times, experiential therapy is not used as a stand-alone treatment. It is often used with other techniques for treating mental health conditions.
Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy interventions and body-focused treatments are the most clinically powerful tool to help people recover from trauma.

Trauma Management

Experiential psychotherapy is a safe way for trauma management by helping to release painful experiences through words and movement. Experiential trauma therapy involves experiential techniques like psychodrama. In addition, experiential therapy services can help an individual build social skills, which can help reduce destructive behaviors. For example, art therapy helps improve communication skills, and being able to communicate can effectively minimize anger.

What Does Experiential Therapy Focus On?

Experiential family therapy focuses on exploring the causes of relationships or family conflicts. It helps to come up with solutions to these issues. In addition, experiential counseling helps solve communication problems in relationships. Experiential therapy examples can be used and have proven helpful for the following conditions:
  • Substance use disorders
  • Anger management 
  • Mood disorders
  • Behavior disorders
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Phobias
  • Stress
  • Trauma 
  • Relationship and family conflicts

Benefits of Experiential Therapy

See below the benefits of experiential therapy:

Situational Resolution

Experiential therapy helps individuals to re-enact specific experiences and assists them in understanding their response to them. This process allows individuals to release repressed negative emotions.

Emotional Processing

Emotional processing is a person’s ability to understand and evaluate their emotions without letting these feelings consume them. Experiential therapy gives room for a lot of emotional influx and release. It allows an individual to process emotions healthily.

Reduced Avoidance

Experiential therapy helps an individual to refrain from denying or running away from dealing with stress by taking on unhealthy habits. Experiential therapy allows individuals to confront their problems and tackle them instead of avoiding them.

Altered Perspectives

An individual’s perspective actively affects their thoughts, indirectly affecting their actions. Experiential therapy helps to cause a change or shift in perspective, which can help a person to focus on and notice the good aspects and positive emotions in life. They affect how they act towards themselves, the people around them, and how they react in stressful situations.

Creative Expression

Experiential therapy helps people to learn to express themselves creatively. Creative expression methods include dancing, painting, and using music and movement. Creative expression allows people to vent in a safe and fun way.

Finding the Right Experiential Therapist

The therapist’s role in experiential therapy is to help an individual explore the core meaning of their emotions. A therapist’s focus is to support and guide an individual to understand their experiences better through experiential therapy activities. The therapist in experiential psychotherapy helps the patients work toward fulfilling lives and will accept the patient whether the therapist agrees with the patient. Also, the therapist listens carefully to the patient and might ask questions to understand the patient better.

What to Look for In An Experiential Therapist

For individual experiential counseling, a person should look for licensed medical personnel with experience in their preferred experiential therapy activities. In a clinical setting for group experiential treatment services, an individual should look out for licensed and certified treatment centers with certified and professional mental health workers. An experiential therapist should have additional training in one or more experiential therapy techniques like music, art, or poetry.

How to Get Started with Experiential Therapy

There are chances that an individual’s insurance policy covers a certain level of coverage for therapy. Insurance companies offer some coverage for mental health services due to the importance of mental health wellness. However, this depends on an individual’s insurance coverage provider.

What to Expect in Your First Experiential Therapy Session

Just like a regular doctor’s appointment, expect to talk about your symptoms, past trauma, how you cope, your goals, and expectations. The first experiential therapy session may be emotionally draining. This is because it will probably involve your therapist asking many questions to understand and understand how you feel. However, the process becomes much easier as you get more comfortable talking to your therapist as time goes on.

Contact An Experiential Therapist Today At Essence Healthcare

Essence is a mental health network that is always ready to help you. We aim to help you find a way to navigate through life challenges while preserving your mental health. In addition, we have expert, highly trained therapists who offer help beyond mental health services to people around the country. We oversee each case carefully, with our entire team working to support you in order to find and deliver the best methods to achieve emotional release.

Contact us at Essence Healthcare to get in touch with an experiential therapist today.

Table of Contents

Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.