Experiential Therapy

Experiential Therapy

There are three primary learning styles. Visual (see it), Auditory (hear it), and Kinesthetic (do it). We have found that most of our clients prefer a combination of these learning styles. Experiential or kinesthetic learning methods that focus on movement are some of the most effective ways to learn, develop and grow. To accommodate these varied learning styles we have integrated a wide variety of successful evidence based experiential therapies into our program. As a result everyone is exposed to the therapies that work best for their individual learning style.


Experiential Therapy Learning Styles Cold Creek Behavioral Health

According to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology experiential behavior therapy techniques are effective in helping clients to evoke and navigate through difficult emotions caused by trauma, abuse or mental health disorders. At the root of addiction is using alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances to “self-medicate” or escape the painful emotions related to childhood and or past experiences. Experiential therapy is one tool that assists therapists to actively identify and process these experiences in a healthful way.

Experiential based therapy is not just one specific type of therapy, but rather a category of inclusive therapies. Examples of experiential therapy activities used at Cold Creek Behavioral Health include equine therapy, recreation therapy, art therapy, music therapy, role play, psychodrama, wilderness and adventure therapy.

This is where offering a range of therapies is beneficial. Clients who benefit from sitting down and talking benefit from participating in psychotherapy. Clients who are more creative will learn more through exploring art therapy. For other clients the experiential recreational-based treatment adds a new dynamic to the treatment process and often helps to address specific emotions or issues that couldn’t be reached otherwise.


The clinical team at Cold Creek work closely with the experiential therapists for the clients benefit. If someone is on the edge of breakthrough in their treatment or is not progressing in their individual or group therapy, experiential therapy can be just the key. For example, during equine therapy the therapist can assign the client to a more challenging task that will push their buttons and help them start feeling or break out of their shell.

The experiential therapists work in tandem with the client’s regular therapist to find out what is happening in therapy. For example, if a client is directing a lot of anger towards the staff during equine therapy, the equine therapist will let the regular therapist know.

During individual counseling sessions the therapist and the client are able to identify what the anger was really about. Even though the anger may be directed at the equine therapist, this was not the issue. Instead some aspect of what occurred during equine therapy was similar to something from the client’s life. The Equine therapist being intentionally overbearing and controlling reminded the client of her own overbearing parents, which explains why she lashed out at the equine therapist. These issues are magnified because the client does not know how to communicate her frustration, which allow anxiety and stress to build.

Advantages of Experiential Therapy

As clients participate in activities that form the basis for experiential therapy this provides therapists with opportunities to observe clients during situations where the clients are unguarded and not focused on the therapy. The more we can help a client let their guard down the better. In particular, some clients are very good at telling the therapist what they want to hear without exposing their real thoughts or feelings. If this same client tries to do this with the experiential therapist they will get very frustrated, because experiential therapy it is not about what the therapist wants to hear. Instead it’s about how the client responds to their emotions in the moment and their normal response to things that happen during the experiential activity.

Goals of Experiential Therapy include:

  • Identify the clients need to ask for help or the importance of receiving help from others.
  • Educate clients about the shame cycle and how to avoid getting trapped within this cycle.
  • Emphasize the importance of relationships. Clients participate in the family program where they learn how to work with others, especially the individuals in their life who are closest to them.
  • Strengthen and improve the client’s communication skills.
  • Identify and work through anger issues.
  • Challenge intellectualizing behavior. Often individuals with addiction believe that they can out think the addiction rather than connect with their emotions.

What Conditions/Disorders Does Experiential Therapy Treat?

Experiential therapy has been shown to successfully treat addiction, substance abuse, mood disorders, behavior disorders, eating disorders, depression, trauma, grief/loss, sex addiction, compulsive gambling, bipolar and other similar conditions.

Clients who regularly experience extreme debilitating emotions like Depression, Grief, Anger, Confusion, Shame, Self-Loathing Low self-esteem do not realize these emotions are often the result of significant perceived or very real traumatic events in their lives

When these triggering emotions are occur, many clients turn to substances like alcohol, painkillers, marijuana and other drugs to escape before the feelings become overwhelming rather than confronting them. Using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate extreme emotions can result in addiction and unresolved mental health issues. A skilled therapist uses experiential therapy to evoke these emotions in safe place where the client can work through and process them therapeutically.

Experiential therapy introduces clients to healthy, positive and productive activities that are a substitute for other unhealthy alternatives they may have used during “down times” during their daily lives.

This is particularly important for individuals who are recovering from Alcoholism, drug addiction, substance abuse disorders or any other type of addiction. A key component of addiction treatment involves identifying healthy replacement activities to substitute for time devoted to drug seeking, acquisition and use.

Experiential therapy is a proven and effective component of comprehensive treatment programs for individuals who are struggling with addiction and other concurring issues and disorders.