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What Is Experiential Therapy?

Discover how experiential therapy can help identify, process, and cope with emotions in this informative article.

What Is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy encourages individuals to immerse themselves in certain experiences that can help them process emotions and develop healthy coping mechanisms. This therapeutic technique often utilizes music, arts and crafts, role-playing, and outdoor activities.

This therapy employs these activities to help clients better recognize the emotions connected to different experiences, including success, failure, responsibility, and self-esteem.

Experiential Therapy

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How Does Experiential Therapy Work?

The foundation of this therapy is the idea that perception affects behavior. Therefore, by allowing people to reexperience repressed unpleasant thoughts and feelings, they can gain a better understanding of their emotions and learn how to process and manage them properly. 

Painful feelings from a traumatic incident, mental health disorder, or grief can significantly impact mental health, behavior, and overall well-being, and suppressing these adverse emotions can worsen their effects on daily life. Thus, therapists utilizing this therapy aim to guide patients through expressive actions to help increase their emotional awareness and alleviate unpleasant emotions, stress, or embarrassment previously repressed.

Types of Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy is broad, as it includes a variety of tools and techniques to help target different situations and needs. The most common types will be detailed below.

Drama Therapy

Drama therapy, or psychodrama, is one of the most popular types of experiential therapy. This approach involves using drama techniques, such as role-playing, to reenact unpleasant situations, allowing patients to express and release negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a safe environment.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based application of music that encourages positive behaviors. A meta-analysis evaluating twenty-one studies found that music therapy improved global and social functioning, movement ability in Parkinson’s disease, depressive symptoms, and sleep quality.1

Music therapists are professionals who have received training and finished an accredited music therapy program.

Art Therapy

Art therapy helps individuals express, interpret, and resolve their thoughts and emotions using artistic means rather than spoken words. This could be drawing, coloring, painting, photography, and sculpting.
Art therapy was found to significantly reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in elderly patients after twenty sessions and can benefit individuals from all walks of life.

Play Therapy

Play therapy interventions are employed primarily for children. It uses therapeutic play to help children communicate their thoughts and feelings that they may be unable to put into words. Therapeutic play involves the child engaging in playtime activities under a therapist’s observation, allowing the mental health professional to gain trust with the child and understand the issues they are facing. Research suggests that 71% of children who receive play therapy will experience positive change.2

Outdoor Therapy

Outdoor therapy involves outdoor activities and adventures combined with therapy sessions to help patients begin healing.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy utilizes well-tempered and trained animals, such as horses (equine therapy), dogs, cats, and birds, to help improve well-being, mental health, and therapeutic outcomes. According to one study, animal therapy significantly improved symptoms of general anxiety, separation anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and specific anxiety.3

What Does Experiential Therapy Treat?

This type of therapy finds its application in a wide range of mental disorders and life problems, including:


This therapy can be helpful in the treatment of substance use disorder by helping patients resolve denial issues, develop a more positive approach towards treatment, and aid cooperation between patient and therapist. For example, one study found that animal therapy improved addiction patients’ outlook on treatment, suggesting this therapeutic method can increase treatment success rates.4

Dual Diagnosis

Experiential counseling may be an effective treatment option for anyone with a dual diagnosis, which is defined as having two disorders (typically a mental health and substance use disorder) simultaneously.


Experiential therapy teaches people how to express, process, and manage negative emotions caused by trauma.

Family Conflict & Communication Issues

Experiential family therapy uncovers the root cause of family issues, as its key concepts center on providing opportunities for family members to learn and grow together. An effective approach for families in relational and traumatic situations could be symbolic experiential family therapy, which allows for deep discussions and reveals deeply-rooted emotions.

Eating Disorders

Some therapy activities can help treat eating disorders by encouraging patients to visualize, express, feel, and project every aspect of their disorder.

Adolescent Behavioral Problems

This therapy for teens can help them uncover subconscious negativity from past experiences that affect behavioral patterns and cope with this negativity through various activities.

Benefits of Experiential Therapy

The main benefits include situational resolution, emotional processing, reduced avoidance, altered perspectives, and creative expression.

Situational Resolution

Experiential therapy intervention allows patients to recreate past events and trauma, assisting in the release of suppressed negativity, which may have hampered healing.

Emotional Processing

Therapists use active interventions to help clients express and identify their emotions. Through the use of hands-on methods, patients are given the opportunity to process thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a creative, alternative way to talk therapy, potentially improving emotional development and treatment success.

Reduced Avoidance

This therapy interventions encourage patients to confront painful feelings and thoughts rather than avoid them.

Altered Perspectives

Participating in experiential group therapy activities, such as psychodrama, allows one to see things through the eyes of others. This is a great advantage, as it helps individuals better understand the people in their lives, such as significant others and family members.

Creative Expression

Certain activities help patients explore themselves in various creative ways, allowing them to discover and learn more about themselves in a more imaginative and innovative way.

Is Experiential Therapy Right for Me?

Some techniques can be especially beneficial for individuals who identify with one or more of the categories outlined below:

Experiential Therapy

Endured Physical or Sexual Abuse in the Past

Suppressed emotions from traumatic experiences, like physical abuse, can affect a person’s quality of life. Experiential therapy is a great option for those who endured any type of abuse, as it creates a safe space to help talk about and learn to cope with past trauma. This type of therapy exists in many forms to address specific needs and situations, such as a women’s program.

Have a Dual Diagnosis—Mental Health Disorder and Addiction Simultaneously

As stated earlier, experiential therapy can be an effective treatment for people with dual diagnoses. Incorporating this therapy in the treatment plan may help ease the recovery process.

Feel Uncomfortable Talking About Their Past

Fortunately, experiential therapy provides various ways and activities for people to express themselves. Thus, it can be a good therapeutic approach for those who find it difficult to communicate their past experiences.

Have Trouble Expressing Thoughts and Feelings Without Getting Angry

People can employ several techniques to help them communicate their feelings without feeling unpleasant emotions like anger. For instance, being around animals can create a sense of calm and relaxation.

Show Happiness When Animals, Art, or Music Are Part of Their Recovery Process

Animal-assisted therapy, art therapy, and music therapy are all types of experiential therapy. So for those who enjoy activities related to these categories, this therapy will be a great fit for their needs.

Experiential Therapy at Ripple Ranch Recovery

Ripple Ranch Recovery is ready to help you or your loved one achieve a higher quality of life through our evidence-based and holistic programs. We offer a variety of treatment options, allowing our experienced medical staff to develop a treatment plan perfectly tailored to your needs, ensuring an impactful and successful recovery.

We believe a mix of treatment types, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, 12-Step programs, and holistic therapy, is perfect for a lasting recovery. Our experiential therapy activities, like art, music, and outdoor therapy, are great examples of our diverse list of opportunities.

Reach Out Today and Begin Healing

Contact us at Ripple Ranch Recovery today to begin your recovery process and journey to a more positive and healthy life. We will help you establish the necessary tools and techniques to lead and sustain a healthy, fulfilling, and happy life.

Discuss the right counseling techniques for you with our qualified admission team here: Contact us