Despite the various efforts by law enforcement and the government to curb the prevalence of drug use in the US, figures are still at an alarmingly high rate. A 2022 report from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics lists more than 37 million Americans aged 12 years and up as being illegal drug users. To this end, the preventive efforts are only equaled by the curative methods being employed to help those with a substance abuse disorder, such as experiential therapy for addiction treatment.
What is Experiential Therapy?
Giving treatment, however, is not enough. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says at least 40% to 60% of people with a substance abuse disorder who have undergone rehabilitation will go into relapse sometime after treatment. This is mostly due to the fact that the treatment given to the patient was not as effective as it was initially thought to be. There are many cases where the patient appears to be responding well to treatment during the beginning of therapy, and then begin to lose the drive, enthusiasm, or willingness to engage in it fully later on.
There is a need for constant evaluation to determine if a treatment approach continues to yield the desired results. It should be noted that many people don’t always respond well to monotony and repetitive activities, which is why approaches like experiential therapy could work well where other forms might have failed. Experiential psychotherapy provides the patient with a physical, hands-on activity or experience that provides interactive opportunities for the patient to engage with their therapist in a much better way. There are many who find it difficult to express deep emotions or painful times in their lives that are relevant to their substance abuse.
Most forms of traditional therapy have a focus on talking, primarily to bring out thoughts and feelings so as to get them off the chest of the patient. Experiential therapy, meanwhile, puts an emphasis on action. As such, this treatment allows the patient to engage both their body and mind. Therapists believe this is immensely helpful as it allows the patient to access psychological elements that they could not access before. Action has always been seen as the primary precursor to change, and related to therapy and rehabilitation, this is the portion of their treatment that brings about the change in their thinking and behavior that is aimed at getting better.
What are the Goals of Experiential Therapy?
Experiential therapy is an evidence-based approach to rehabilitation that seeks to immerse the patient in activities that are designed with specific goals in line with addiction treatment. These goals include:
Develop Greater Self-awareness
Discovery is an essential part of any kind of therapy. Relevant to addiction treatment, the goal is the discovery of potential causes for the development of a substance abuse disorder, what specific triggers bring about the urge to indulge in alcohol or drugs, and what things might hamper the recovery of the patient.
The development of self-awareness is not necessarily limited to things that are related to addiction recovery. In many instances, the patient discovers that they apparently have a hidden talent that is brought out by the activities they participate in, and this sense of accomplishment goes a long way to helping build the confidence of the patient and to a greater sense of self-worth.
Expression of Complex Emotions
Much like talk therapy, there is a need to get the patient to open up about complex or deep-seated issues that could have either sparked the interest in using substances or could be a recurring source of stress which hinders complete recovery. In many cases, these issues or emotions are not as simple as most people think. They could be highly complex issues that need a good deal of processing just to sift through. Unless these issues are brought out and processed, they could be a constant hindrance to any kind of progress in therapy.
As with anything that has to do with emotions, these complex issues could only get worse as time goes by. Most people would dismiss emotional issues with the saying “time heals all wounds,” but there are some concerns that simply get worse the more it is ignored and later on manifests themselves in a destructive form of self-harm, such as substance abuse. Certain activities in experiential therapy, such as music, arts, free-form writing, and poetry, often help patients bring out complex emotional issues that could be too painful for them to confront and discuss openly, and this could be the only gateway for such issues to be explored through.
Provide a Safe Environment for Synthesizing Difficult Experiences
Trauma is believed to be one of the most powerful things to ever influence a person to get into alcohol or drug abuse. This is particularly true for deep-seated trauma, such as abuse experienced as a child or domestic assault at home, or for unprocessed trauma, such as those experienced by those who have seen great conflict or warfare. It could also be a harrowing experience like a potentially lethal accident or injury. These things tend to settle deep in the consciousness of people and fester.
What makes this worse is that the longer it is kept inside, the more the person tends to not want to talk about it. Experiential therapy could become an alternative outlet of sorts where the patient could allude to the trauma they have through the result of the activity they participate in, and this is where the therapist picks up on it. As the patient often does not want to broach the subject, it would be immensely helpful if the therapist could glean it from the outcome of the experiential therapy. Chapters Recovery offers dual diagnosis treatment in Massachusetts for anyone suffering both addiction and mental health disorders.
Help Patients Recognize their Emotional Responses to Triggers
There are many instances when people fail to notice that their emotional response to certain forms of stimuli could lead to a negative outcome. There are just some incidents or events that seem to bring out the worst in some people. In others, these events could become a trigger for them to either indulge in the use of alcohol or drugs to deal with the emotional upheaval that they feel or if they had already quit using these, get back into their addiction because they never learned to cope with these emotional responses properly.
Identifying these negative responses is important because when a person has become so accustomed to these things, they will not seem wrong at all. These emotional responses could be clearly seen in some of the results of the activities used in experiential therapy, as most of these activities often bring out or reflect what is on the patient’s subconscious.
Initiate a Positive Change from All the Realizations
All of the activities done in experiential therapy are designed to not only identify the possible issues that need to be worked out so that the patient could achieve a full recovery but also to equip the patient with the necessary mindset and skills needed to cope with whatever it was that bothered them before. This is the ultimate goal of every form of therapy intended to help people recover from a substance abuse disorder.
The positive change does not always come in the form of a massive, life-changing transformation that reflects the triumph of a hero in popular media. In many cases, it could come as small victories for the patient as they work their way towards getting better and ensuring they do not fall back on bad habits. These small victories, or milestones as they are called in therapy, become the foundation for the lasting sobriety that every patient in men’s rehab or women’s rehab hopes to achieve.
What Conditions are Best Addressed with Experiential Therapy?
Apart from substance abuse, experiential therapy is often also used to treat co-occurring conditions such as mental health issues, since the activities included are designed to become somewhat expressive of the patient’s emotional and mental landscape, particularly the aspects that they either cannot or do not want to bring out.
Thus far, experiential therapy has been used to deal with the following mental health conditions:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What makes experiential therapy quite useful for treatment is that it could be easily integrated with most other psychotherapy techniques, allowing the therapist to not only paint a picture of the buried issues the patient might have but also what specific things the patient might resonate better with so as to help further with their recovery.
Chapters Can Help You with the Best Therapy Suited to Your Needs
There is a practice here at Chapters Recovery, one that is intended to help our patients along the road to recovery better. It is the practice of listening to what patients say, and to the things that they might be trying to say, but cannot. Approaches like experiential therapy help in these things, and we know this because we have helped so many others with these techniques. We can also help you. Let’s talk soon.