Benefits of Experiential Therapy

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Innovative Experiential Therapy Offers Many Benefits

Experiential therapy is a hands-on treatment approach that uses expressive activities and physical movement to promote healing and change. All licensed therapists help their clients identify and overcome problems, but those who use experiential therapy will use interactive, immersive and unconventional therapeutic techniques. Experiential therapy is growing in popularity because it’s more enjoyable and engaging than conventional talk therapy. It’s offered in traditional settings such as medical offices as well as private settings like recovery centers and rehabilitation programs.


Clients don’t need to backpack through the mountains of India or spend thousands of dollars on New Age retreats to learn the benefits of mindfulness. According to a Harvard University study, mindfulness-based meditation can help reduce anxiety, depression and chronic pain. Joining a meditation group is an excellent way to increase self-awareness and self-discipline while decreasing brain chatter and mental disorganization. You can meditate for as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Practitioners simply need to sit up straight or lie down in a comfortable position, then close their eyes and breathe naturally. Attention should be focused on the breath and bringing the mind back into focus every time it’s distracted.

Meditation can be quite challenging because it’s hard to slow down and shut down your senses and thoughts. Meditation can increase your awareness of how susceptible you are to sounds, movements, and mental “noise.” You may learn how to become aware of your emotions and racing thoughts and live in the present moment. This helps to gain more control of daily life and self-manage mental and physical health issues. After a meditation session in a therapy setting, the therapist may encourage clients to take turns expressing what they were thinking, so they can get feedback and promote treatment.

Dance Movement Therapy

Wouldn’t it be fun to wear some MC Hammer pants and dance to hits from the 1990s instead of sitting in a quiet therapist’s office? Dance movement therapy (DMT) is a legitimate form of psychotherapy that uses movement to enhance cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning. DMT isn’t just a group of people randomly dancing and having fun. It’s a structured and supervised activity with specific purposes and expected outcomes. A dance therapist will encourage you to increase awareness of your breath, emotional reactions, and bodily sensations. You’ll be encouraged to improvise and physically express your emotions. The dance therapist will use the session to help you explore and establish connections between your emotions, cognition, and movement.

Dance therapists may encourage specific sequences for certain issues, such as anxiety or anger. The therapist will monitor and analyze your movements, body language, and facial expressions to offer specific therapeutic suggestions. A common technique used to help clients feel validated is to imitate the client’s movements. Another technique is for clients to create a series of unique movements that symbolize their sequences of trauma and experiences. At the end of a session, the dance therapist may encourage you to express your feelings and provide self-reflection. Dance movement therapy is a great way to do some cardio and relieve physical tension while resolving psychological problems. Research shows that dance movement therapy is an effective intervention tool for older adults with depression.

Art Therapy

Art therapy uses creativity and individualism to help you share your emotions and thoughts. The artwork may include anything from painting to sculpture to photography. You don’t have to be a Freudian to know that most people have repressed trauma and negative emotions. Art therapy empowers you to express your sadness and frustration without too much talking and analyzing. This is critical if you struggle to express yourself or discuss traumatic experiences. You can participate in group activities that promote artistic crafts, motor skills, intuitive expression, and healthy social connections. Improving nonverbal communication skills can help you in your daily life.

Art therapy helps with self-discovery because it encourages you to expose and identify hidden pain, subconscious conflicts, and deep feelings that sometimes cannot be clearly expressed with words. This allows a licensed therapist to guide you through the process of acknowledging, releasing, and recycling emotional energy. Creating even mediocre art can boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. During art therapy, you can learn how to convert your emotions into a visual product, which helps you to improve your mind-body awareness. This also helps you learn how to identify and control your emotions, decreasing interpersonal impulsivity. Research has found that there are evolutionary, biological, and neurological roots that contribute to expressing yourself through art and being creative in general.

Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy, which is also known as adventure therapy, replaces the traditional psychoanalyst’s couch with hiking boots in pristine settings. Wilderness therapy started out as a mental health intervention for children and teens with behavioral and emotional challenges. According to a report by the U.S. Forest Service, 38 well-known wilderness programs serve a total of 12,000 clients every year. This results in 350,000 days of enjoying nature in the wilderness. Most people associate it with wilderness boot camps for juveniles. Some programs are still Rambo-style adventures with week-long backpacking adventures and survival skills classes. But today, you can also find adult wilderness therapy groups to help you with everything from overcoming addiction to managing mood disorders.

The average adult client can benefit so much from a day or weekend adventure therapy program. Being in a therapeutic environment with group support, such as a traditional AA meeting at a community center, helps clients overcome their physical and psychological issues. If the group therapy setting changes to a mountain forest, and a goal like hiking to a waterfall is added, the therapy dynamics and group outcomes change for the better. Like most people, you may be unaware of your self-destructive habits and negative thinking patterns. Once you’re completely removed from your familiar environment and surrounded by beautiful nature, your view of yourself and your place in the world will shift. Group interactions like these can open your eyes to your own maladaptive thoughts and attitudes in a safe and pleasant space.

Equine Therapy

Interacting with animals can be unnerving for many people, especially if they’re riding a large animal. But it’s helpful to push yourself out of your comfort zones. This empowers you to build confidence while bonding with another living being. Equine therapy is a great way to get outside and enjoy the fresh air while connecting with a sensitive and intelligent equine healer who can also give you a pleasant ride through a field. Horses are amazing creatures who exhibit social behaviors that are similar to those of humans. Over time, you can establish a productive connection with a horse that allows you to progress in therapy and overcome your problems.

For example, a therapist might use a CBT technique that involves you in performing a simple task like walking the horse in a circle or putting a halter on the animal. As you experience apprehension about the unfamiliar tasks, you can discuss your thought patterns with your therapist, who can identify automatic, negative responses. Equine therapy, or Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy (EAET), sometimes doesn’t even involve riding a horse. Instead, you may spend your therapeutic time simply feeding or grooming a horse while experiencing the equine environment and dynamics of establishing a relationship with a horse. Research has demonstrated that equine therapy can help with grief, anxiety, addiction, and other behavioral issues.

Psychodrama Therapy

Psychodrama is group psychotherapy that uses acting, role play, and theatrical performance to raise awareness, shift perspectives, and promote treatment. Does this mean that you’ll have to wear costumes, speak with a different accent, and perform live onstage? Probably not. This dynamic counseling technique is commonly used by licensed therapists in their clinical offices. For example, marriage and family therapists (MFTs) often use a simplified version of psychodrama therapy when they have couples and families engage in role reversal. This helps clients disengage from their core selves and see the world through the other person’s eyes. Ideally, clients will be able to reduce conflict and increase communication through acting out each other’s roles and expressing each other’s opinions and feelings.

Some group therapists use this approach in mental health and addiction treatment. For example, the group therapist may warm up the clients by having them move, jump, walk and play around. Then, the group therapist may have the lead client reenact a past event, such as a substance relapse, or a future event, such as peer pressure from so-called friends. Some members of the group will serve as supporting actors while others will be the audience. After the psychodrama event is over, the audience provides feedback to promote treatment and provide support. Sometimes, other group members will act out the specific experiences of a target client who can watch in the audience and gain helpful insights.

Body-Centered Therapy

Body-centered therapy, which is also called somatic psychotherapy, promotes holistic healing of the integrated mind and body. This approach combines various aspects of classical psychology, such as psychoanalysis and Gestalt therapy, with Eastern medicine, such as holism and energy channels. Some of the most popular body-centered therapies include yoga, tai chi, massage, acupuncture, and alternative relaxation techniques. Yoga offers excellent physical benefits, which include increased vitality, flexibility, respiration, circulation, and muscle strength. Consistent yoga practice improves concentration, mental clearness, emotional balance, and body awareness. Tai chi, which originated in ancient China, looks like a combination of slow dancing and walking yoga combined with martial arts movements.

Who doesn’t want to get a nice, hot massage instead of sitting in a therapist’s office? The Mayo Clinic says that massage is an excellent way to reduce stress, tension, pain and blood pressure. Other body-centered therapies include the emotional freedom technique (EFT), which is a type of psychological acupressure that involves tapping on energy points. It’s a popular treatment for anxiety and addiction. The NIH reports that over 100 studies demonstrate the effectiveness of EFT. The American Psychological Association (APA) conditionally recommends eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) as a treatment for PTSD. This therapy involves moving your eyes while recalling negative and traumatic experiences.

Other popular experiential treatment approaches include play, journaling, music, and labyrinth therapies. If you or someone you know is suffering from a substance use disorder, we’re here to help. Feel free to contact us anytime at Defining Wellness Centers.

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