Experiential Therapy for Addiction Treatment

experiential therapy for addiction treatment

Experiential Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Behavioral therapy has long been the standard for treating drug and alcohol addiction. Combined with FDA-approved medications and lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy is an effective way to help many people recover from substance use disorder. However, not everyone feels comfortable working in a traditional therapy setting. This is where experiential therapy for addiction treatment comes into play.

What is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential activities are those that involve hands-on activities that help people cope with trauma or emotional distress. In other words, experiential therapy incorporates nontraditional treatment methods into the addiction recovery process to help recovering individuals work through their difficulties.

Experiential therapy is helpful in treating other co-occurring disorders besides just addiction. Some mental health conditions this approach can effectively treat include:

In the earlier stages of addiction treatment, experiential therapy can help patients cope with their withdrawal symptoms and deal with cravings. Then, after detox, experiential therapy can be combined with psychotherapy to help promote healthier behaviors in patients.

Ultimately, this approach can help decrease stress, improve mental health, help patients cope with triggers, and reduce the risk of relapse.

Experiential Therapy Techniques Used in Addiction Treatment

Many people in recovery may be uncomfortable sharing certain details, memories, experiences, and emotions with therapists or peers in a traditional counseling setting. Fortunately, there are a variety of experiential therapies that place patients in safe and comforting environments, allowing them to heal on a non-verbal level.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a technique where the therapist asks a patient to visualize a past traumatic event while their eyes are being led by the therapist through a series of eye movements. This therapy technique can help alleviate feelings of distress, fear, and panic that are associated with trauma or substance abuse.[1]

Adventure or Recreation Therapy

Adventure therapy, sometimes referred to as recreation therapy or wilderness therapy, involves outdoor activities like rock climbing, camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, and more. These activities can help patients develop team-building skills, communication skills, self-confidence, and healthy habits.[2]

Art and Other Creative Therapies

Art, drama, and music therapy are all great ways for patients to express their emotions without the use of words. Creating art or expressing oneself through art is an effective way to work through trauma and other negative emotions.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy may involve horses, dogs, or dolphins. Interacting with animals such as these can be extremely rewarding, helping patients build self-esteem, confidence, and communication skills.[3]

Other Experiential Therapies

While these are the most commonly used methods, there are many other experiential approaches that can be used in addiction treatment. Additional types of experiential therapy include:

  • Dance therapy
  • Psychodrama
  • Creative writing or poetry
  • Role-play
  • Guided imagery

All experiential methods are facilitated by a licensed therapist who can guide patients through the exercises and customize treatment to meet all patients’ specific needs.

How Does Experiential Therapy Work?

Experiential therapies aim to shift patients’ perspectives of themselves and the world around them. At the same time, this method encourages patients to explore complicated emotions and develop healthy coping skills.

Addiction and alcoholism are three-fold diseases that affect the mind, body, and spirit. Experiences sought through experiential therapy can help patients work through their emotions and tap into spiritual aspects of healing while at an addiction treatment program.

It isn’t always easy to put past trauma into words. Repressed childhood memories or traumatic events can keep people trapped in the deadly cycle of addiction if these emotions aren’t dealt with in an appropriate way. Experiential methods offer an alternative outlet to help patients heal fully. And, when patients are focused on the task at hand rather than their emotions, they may find it easier to open up about difficult things.

Many activities patients are introduced to during experiential therapy are activities that they can continue participating in throughout their recovery. This means patients could be introduced to new, healthy, life-long habits to take place of their substance abuse.

Find Help Today

At Florida Recovery Group, we provide a range of services that address addiction problems and co-occurring disorders, and our experienced addiction therapists and support staff are dedicated to our client’s sobriety. From the moment you or a loved one enters our Delray Beach rehab facility, you can rest assured that comprehensive medical and clinical observation is in place.

We use innovative approaches to design alcohol and drug addiction treatment plans specific to individual needs, with recovery as our primary objective. Our multidisciplinary addiction professionals provide a safe and trusting environment to help bridge the gap between today’s struggle and a brighter future.

To learn more about our addiction treatment programs or to find help for yourself or a loved one, pick up the phone and call us today.


  1. https://connect.springerpub.com/content/sgremdr/11/1/3?implicit-login=true
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149718915300094
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6981395/