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Experiential Therapy Isn’t Talk Therapy (And That’s Good)

What is experiential therapy, and how does it differ from talk therapy? Get trusted, detailed information on experiential therapy, at HealthyPlace.

Experiential therapy is not a type of therapy, such as psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Instead, it is a collective of experiential therapeutic methods that are thought to influence the subconscious and improve mental wellbeing. Experiential therapy focuses on the importance of actual lived experiences rather than analyzing past or present behaviors. It goes beyond traditional talk therapy, and for some, that’s a good thing.

Let’s take a look at the definition of experiential therapy, it’s benefits and who it can help?

What Is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy refers to a list of therapeutic interventions designed to focus on involvement with different sorts of experiences. These experiences may include interpersonal interactions, creative activities, emotional processing and music therapy. The aim of these interventions is to help the person in therapy increase their awareness of their internal representations of the world. These therapeutic exercises and activities allow people to develop insight and build connections to their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Experiential therapists believe that through different kinds of experiences (rather than the deep-seated analysis and realization that takes place in talk therapy), the individual can learn about and attend to their own needs and develop proactive methods to address problems going forward.  

Types of experiential therapy include:

What Are the Benefits of Experiential Therapy?

One of the main benefits of experiential therapy is that it is not a talking therapy. For people who struggle to communicate with words, or do not wish to talk about a traumatic experience or share challenging emotions, this is a good thing. All people are different, and not everyone benefits from talking about their problems. Experiential therapy gives people the opportunity to practice new behaviors and actions in a safe therapeutic environment.

Experiential therapy also helps people tap into underlying issues, unresolved trauma and repressed emotions. It can also help break maladaptive relationship patterns and improving problem-solving skills.

Who Benefits from Experiential Therapy Activities?

Experiential therapy activities can benefit children and adults of all ages, so long as they are mentally and physically able to take part and they are not acutely psychotic. Branches of experiential therapy such as animal-assisted therapy and music therapy are particularly beneficial for people with autism or developmental challenges, while music and art therapy can help those with Alzheimer's and other aging-related disorders.  

Experiential therapy has also proven effective in the treatment of substance abuse disorders alongside other empirically validated techniques, such as withdrawal management and support group involvement. Research from The Use of the Creative Therapies with Chemical Dependency Issues (2009) has indicated that expressive therapies in particular (such as music therapy or psychodrama) can help foster cooperation and reduce issues with denial for those in treatment for substance abuse.

One of the greatest benefits of experiential therapy activities is that your therapist gets to observe you in situations that mimic the real world. Rather than listening to you talk about your emotions, your therapist can see how they influence your behavior in authentic scenarios.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, October 9). Experiential Therapy Isn’t Talk Therapy (And That’s Good), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 29 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/experiential-therapy-isnt-talk-therapy-and-thats-good

Last Updated: October 15, 2019
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Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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