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Experiential Therapies

Line drawing of a butterfly with NDFWOur experiences shape who we are. This, in part, is one of the core beliefs behind experiential therapy for addiction recovery. Traumatic experiences can manifest as painful emotions and repressed memories—and this can turn into a substance use disorder. 

However, experiences can also help heal the unresolved wounds of a traumatic past. Here at New Directions for Women, we offer hands-on experiences to help patients explore emotional trauma in a safe and productive environment. Through our therapeutic approaches, we offer individuals the opportunity to heal and break free from addiction and its co-occurring challenges.

What is Experiential Therapy? 

Experiential therapy acts as a hands-on mental health treatment. True to its name, it provides participants with experience to help them sift through negative emotions attached to the past and develop healthy coping mechanisms. This type of therapy takes various forms that can build upon skills learned in traditional therapy. 

For this reason, there is a type of experiential addiction therapy for almost everyone. From taking care of animals to drawing, this type of treatment allows individuals to express negative feelings in a positive way. A beloved hobby can be a source of therapeutic peace or a new experience can turn into a lifelong love for activity and a source of emotional peace. 

This type of therapy can help treat: 

  • Trauma
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Anger issues 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Substance use disorders 
  • Estranged family relationships 
  • Some behavioral health disorders 

Experiential therapy works in different ways depending upon the type. One kind of this type therapy could make it easier for a therapist and patient to bond. Another kind could help individuals with problem-solving in a positive way. Together, a client and treatment team can devise an experiential therapeutic plan that is right for them. 

Types of Experiential Therapy in Orange County, CA

Each form of experiential therapy can challenge personal limits and provide experiential avenues into healing and growth.  

We offer a wide range of different types of experiential therapy such as: 

Art Therapy

Creating art is a powerful way to tap into negative emotions in a positive way. Art can show therapists hidden feelings tied to past trauma. Clients can release any unrecognized, self-destructive emotions through what they create. As art takes many forms, this is a suitable form of treatment for most clients.

Some forms of art therapy may ask clients to: 

  • Draw 
  • Paint
  • Sculpt 
  • Carve 
  • Create pottery 
  • Make collages 
  • Create images through graphic design 

An art therapist at an addiction recovery center may ask a client to draw how a certain memory makes the client feel. Then, the therapist can interpret the result and help the client understand how unresolved trauma can lead to using drugs and alcohol

Exercise Therapy 

Physical fitness is important to the overall health of everyone. Our patients are able to engage in a variety of exercises, including working out weekly with a personal trainer on campus, using the on-site gym, and walking or bicycling in the Newport Back Bay nature preserve.  Our facility has a well-equipped gym, allowing patients to continue with the fitness programs they learn.

Time and time again, research shows that physical activity is essential for mental hygiene. Exercise can help regulate brain chemistry and help clients at NDFW get back into physical shape. Chemicals released in the brain when someone uses drugs and alcohol are similar to those released while exercising. 

Adventure Therapy 

Adventure therapy is a form of experiential treatment that typically involves the outdoors. Clients involved in adventure therapy will regain their sense of wonder and joy without the use of drugs and alcohol. One of the forms of adventure therapy we offer at New Directions for Women is hiking. 

There is some overlap between exercise therapy and adventure therapy. Many types of adventure therapy may also qualify as exercise therapy, but not every type of exercise therapy is adventure therapy. Regardless, physical activity in combination with a scenic setting can aid the addiction recovery process. 

Music Therapy 

Many songs focus on the feelings and past experiences of the musician. Making music in a therapeutic setting can help patients explore the reasons behind their respective addictions in a safe, beautiful way. 

Writing Therapy  

Writing can be therapeutic, especially with the guidance of therapists who use writing as a healing medium. Expressive writing is different from writing without a medical purpose. Those who specialize in writing therapy might have a series of prompts to help individuals uncover hidden trauma and process their feelings in a tangible way. 

Some examples of writing therapy prompts for addiction might look like:

  • What is a memory that makes you upset? 
  • What is a memory that brings you joy? 
  • Write about what has triggered alcohol and drug use in the past. 
  • Would you say you have a healthy relationship with your family? 
  • What factors in your life may lead you to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism? 

For instance, sometimes an individual can harbor self-destructive, painful emotions without fully understanding them. This can turn into a substance use disorder. However, writing workshops for addiction can help people verbalize these feelings. This helps them understand these emotions in a safe environment. 

Trauma Therapy

One’s primary therapist can assist the patient to explore past traumas and possible contributing factors to their addiction problems. The assistance is designed to provide a safe, yet challenging experience for our patients to connect with their feelings.

Line drawing of a womanBenefits of Experiential Therapy 

While traditional talk therapy has its place, its efficacy is diminished without a robust comprehensive plan. In short, that means including experiential therapy as a part of any addiction treatment program. 

Unlike traditional talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, individuals can practice activities practiced in experiential therapy when they would like. Of course, the team here at New Directions for Women leads patients through each activity involved in this type of therapy. But individuals can practice these activities during and after treatment. 

A Note to Consider

Each activity on its own can help to make up an effective relapse prevention plan. Yet, individuals involved in any type of experiential therapy must first practice it with a skilled professional at an addiction treatment facility. 

Engaging in this type of therapy without a trained guide may result in ineffective treatment. Specialists can tell patients how to use the lessons they’ve learned once their treatment is complete. Trying to benefit from experiential therapeutic methods without instruction isn’t a good decision for this reason. 

How to Decide on the Right Kind of Experiential Therapy 

As said before, there is a type of experiential therapy for almost everyone. We’d like to emphasize that not every type is for everyone, though. For instance, individuals who have severe allergies to pet dander won’t likely benefit from animal-assisted therapy. 

When deciding on what type to go with, it’s helpful to consider the following: 

  • Will your insurance cover this type of therapy?
  • Are there hobbies or activities you already enjoy? 
  • Do you have any allergies (such as pollen or animal dander)? 
  • Have you tried a particular form of experiential therapy in the past? 
  • Do you have any physical disabilities that may limit your participation? 
  • Will one form be dangerous for you to participate in (like white-water rafting without knowing how to swim)? 

The knowledgeable, caring team at our facility can help you figure out which type of treatment will benefit you the most. They can also advise against forms that may not be in your best interest. That said, even if one form doesn’t help, another might (addiction treatment plans can be tweaked to be more effective). 

Who Might Not Benefit from Experiential Therapy? 

This type of treatment may not be the best option for each individual. People with extreme psychotic behavior or those with severe physical/cognitive disabilities may not benefit from experiential treatment. In fact, it could put them in danger in some instances. 

Getting the opinion of a professional experiential therapist at a substance use disorders treatment facility is crucial for reasons like this. Although this specific type of treatment may not benefit some individuals with a dual diagnosis, they can likely point out a form of treatment that would benefit the patient the most. 

What is the Difference Between Experiential Therapy and Traditional Therapy? 

There is some overlap between traditional therapy and experiential therapy. Some components of a traditional therapy approach, like cognitive behavioral therapy, may involve writing down feelings or exercising a certain amount of times per week. Yet, at its core, traditional therapy typically involves talking with a therapist in a private or group setting. In comparison, experiential therapy will focus on experiences to help with healing and understanding instead of dialogue between a therapist and client. 

Individual and Group Therapy at New Directions for Women

Interactive daily process groups with the patient’s primary therapist and peers provide an opportunity to address issues and learn new ways of functioning and living. In addition to individual therapy sessions and process groups, we offer specialized psycho-educational groups such as relapse prevention, communication, grief and anger management, and life skills workshops to facilitate growth.

Find Your Path to Recovery in Orange County, CA 

Experiential therapy is one of the many forms of treatment we offer at our addiction treatment facility in Orange County, CA. We believe that every plan must be personalized per individual; personalizing each individual’s experiential therapy plan is no exception. New Directions for Women includes a diverse mix of therapies because our clients are diverse and deserve the best chance at long-term recovery. To find out what addiction treatment plan would work for you or a loved one, contact us now.

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Clinically Reviewed By:

Heather Black-Coyne, LMFT, CADC II, Chief Clinical Officer

Heather Black-Coyne, LMFT, CADC II, Chief Clinical Officer

Heather most recently served as the Clinical Director of a gender-specific treatment center in Huntington Beach. She is trained in both Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which serve the needs of our patients, many of whom have experienced both complex trauma and substance use disorder.

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Alejandro Alva, M.D., Medical Director

Dr. Alejandro Alva, M.D., Medical Director

Alejandro Alva, MD, has a focus on substance abuse and chemical dependency treatment and general psychiatric disorders. Dr. Alva earned his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fullerton, and completed medical school at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara School of Medicine in Mexico. He then returned to California, where he completed his psychiatric residency at the University of California, Irvine.

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