Experiential therapy recreates experiences that bring subconscious feelings, urges, or behaviors into a person’s conscious awareness. It’s hard to create a formal definition of experiential therapy because so many therapeutic methods can be used. There are a lot of misconceptions about experiential treatment for this very reason.
Whatever technique is used, experiential therapy should provide insight into the nature of a person’s behaviors and feelings. It’s important to remember that these techniques should not be used in addiction recovery on their own. Instead, they are supplemental techniques intended to promote motivation and success in recovery.
Music therapy is beneficial to addiction recovery because music inspires feelings in people. The energy of music can quickly affect a person’s mental state. If a patient is having trouble expressing how they feel in therapy, music allows them to pick songs and sounds that help reflect their emotions. This is one of many reasons why music therapy is beneficial for treating substance abuse, as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
Research has shown that music can relax muscles, calm anxiety, and create stronger interpersonal skills. Realistically, any emotional traumas or mental health issues should be addressed in recovery, and music therapy has proven to be useful in mental health settings.
The techniques used in music therapy may include:
- Lyric analysis
- Relaxation training
- Musical games
- Improvising music based on emotions or other topics
These techniques have numerous benefits ranging from positive emotional changes to reduced anger in patients. A research study conducted in 2014 showed that music therapy is used more frequently in settings where the patients are predominantly women and adolescents. Children may have a difficult time understanding their emotions well enough to adequately explain them to a therapist. Music therapy encourages creativity as a way of presenting their feelings, which can be an effective motivator toward changing their behaviors.
Sometimes referred to as adventure therapy, wilderness therapy is all about self-discovery. This type of therapy is especially useful for behavioral modification, helping people become aware of how they process experiences and what emotional triggers influence their thought process. Wilderness therapy is commonly used among adolescents and young adults but it can benefit anyone.
Wilderness therapy is often not considered formal treatment from the patient’s standpoint – to them, it feels like a break from treatment. This may encourage them to express themselves more and feel more relaxed in a therapy session. They may also be able to make connections with a part of themselves they think they lost. The research in support of wilderness therapy is mostly positive, though limitations are recognized. These shortcomings include certain physical limitations.
Those who suffer from ADHD show fewer benefits, and people with severe mental health issues like psychosis should not be involved in wilderness therapy. Also, patients dealing with violent tendencies or anger must be carefully supervised during this type of treatment. The primary goal of wilderness therapy is to help a person reflect on their experiences and relate them to any issues in their life, such as a substance use disorder. This process can be a strong motivator for adolescents and adults to become active in their recovery.
Service Dogs and Animal Therapy
Many adolescents and young adults who struggle with substance abuse disorders report feeling isolated and alone. Animal therapy helps them build healthy connections with others and also helps them relieve anxiety or hesitation about receiving treatment. This particular type of therapy has great promise when used in adolescent and youth inpatient and day rehabs.
Introducing animals to therapy sessions can help promote better communication between patients and their providers. A love for animals can also create better interpersonal skills in therapy, which is vital to a sustainable recovery. Studies confirm that animal therapy relieves the physiological effects of stress and anxiety in adolescents and young adults. Some children and young adults need a soft touch to feel comforted, but physical contact between the patient and therapist may be inappropriate.
Having animals in therapy sessions gives patients that nurturing touch that may help open up their feelings. Introducing animals in therapy settings can also positively transform their environment while building rapport between the therapist and patient, which may motivate a child to take a more active role in therapy sessions. Again, there are limitations to animal therapy.
Therapists should always consider what is best for their patients before introducing such experiential therapies. Patients who have animal phobia would obviously not benefit from animal therapy. Furthermore, patients with violent tendencies who may pose a threat to the animal should not be involved with animal therapy. This is not a one-size-fits-all technique and should be applied with serious discretion.
Applying These Benefits to Recovery
In terms of motivating a patient in recovery, experiential therapy has an abundance of benefits. It helps relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety about treatment. It also helps build strong relationships between therapists and patients. There are many different types of experiential therapies available for addiction recovery. While some of these techniques are not widely accepted as a form of treatment on their own, they can be used to supplement the therapies used in more conventional programs. Take this opportunity to learn more, assess the patient’s needs, and determine if these therapies can help.
If you find experiential treatments intriguing and would like to know more about the techniques applied to addiction recovery, we can help guide you in the best direction. Contact Sustain Recovery today at (949) 407-9052.