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How Experiential Therapy Can Help with Addiction

People talking about experiential therapy and addiction

Recovery from substance abuse can be a complex process. Not only are those working through this challenge dealing with physical aspects of addiction, but also emotional and psychological hurdles. To address the multiple sides of addiction, it’s often helpful to use an equally nuanced treatment approach like experiential therapy. Real situations can help clients reflect on underlying mental health concerns safely and flexibly in this context.

If you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse and want to learn more about experiential therapy and addiction recovery, contact NuLife Behavioral Health. We’re available at 888.568.2057 or electronically via our confidential online form. Staff members are waiting to answer your questions and connect you to the resources you need for recovery.

What Is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is a wide-ranging treatment approach that facilitates self-awareness and processing using expressive activities and tools. These include animal care, music, visual art, drama, hiking, guided imagery, and more. With a therapist’s guidance, clients reflect on events from experiential work. This helps them identify and shift or release difficult emotions and thoughts that arise.

The underlying idea is that real-world experiences allow clients to safely approach content that relates to past traumas and ongoing self-defeating behavior patterns. Importantly, experiential therapy is often most effective with other therapeutic approaches, such as behavioral therapy—like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These talk therapies can provide additional processing space for the “field work” of experiential therapy. They can also add to clients’ experiences by helping them develop mindfulness and stress management skills.

Experiential therapy may also be paired with medically assisted detox in an addiction recovery setting. Withdrawal symptoms from certain substances, such as narcotics and alcohol, may be severe. Receiving proper medical care can thus be incredibly helpful and even life-saving during early recovery. Whether this aspect of treatment is present depends on the substance being abused and the client’s other unique needs.

What Are the Benefits of Combining Experiential Therapy and Addiction Treatment?

Experiential therapy can be effective for people with a variety of concerns. Nonetheless, it holds some unique benefits for those in substance abuse recovery:

  • Because of its emphasis on facilitating actual experiences, it can help clients understand how past events shaped their behavior or worldview. This insight can then help them free themselves to move on in areas where they may be psychically “stuck.”
  • It provides a non-verbal entry point for processing emotions and past experiences. For many, initially combating an addiction from a purely intellectual standpoint is not adequate. A more physical and non-rational approach can be an effective alternative.
  • Sometimes those living with addiction have repressed memories contributing to their ongoing substance abuse. Experiential therapy may help them safely rediscover and process the painful events contributing to the addiction cycle.
  • When clients focus on an experiential task, they are often less defensive. Tasks like guiding a horse through an obstacle course or composing a song can produce genuine and authentic responses. This, in turn, makes way for broader self-awareness and behavioral change.

Experiential therapy can also benefit clients who tend to intellectualize their addiction. Some come to recovery hoping to “fix” their problem through information alone, which is rarely effective. Experiential therapy provides a significant inroad into recovery’s emotional and behavioral aspects.

Find Experiential Therapy and Substance Abuse Treatment in Massachusetts at NuLife Behavioral Health

Learn more about the many benefits and forms of experiential therapy available to you by contacting NuLife Behavioral Health today. We offer substance abuse treatment programs in Massachusetts. Call us at 888.568.2057 or reach out online to learn more about experiential therapy and other substance abuse treatment options.