Some of travel for the sake of adventure, or even business. But most of us are looking for something when we travel–a mental rest, a chance to recuperate, to learn something new, and possibly even find peace and balance in our lives. In other words, you could consider it a form of therapy. Many people travel in order to go to a therapeutic facility, whether it’s for rehab, or just for a mental health break.
Often, if you’re traveling for therapy, you’ll probably want to get the most out of experiential therapy that’s available. Experiential therapy is a large umbrella term which refers to any form of therapy wherein someone steps outside of their normal experiences and outside of the traditional “talk” therapy format in order to achieve healing and understanding of their mental state and achieve their goals.
What are the benefits of experiential therapy?
Experiential therapy is becoming more and more popular as people see the breakthroughs that they can reach through a different kind of format. Here are some of the ways that experiential therapy can help where talk therapy has been ineffective:
- Shakes you out of the normal patterns of talk therapy.
- Breaks down walls that you set up and encourages true honesty in people who are able to easily “game the system” on talk therapy.
- Encourages bonding between either the client and therapist, or between different family or group members. (Note: Team building exercises can be a form of experiential therapy.)
- Abstract approach enables a mix of emotional distance, and immediate experience that can prompt breakthroughs and understanding.
- Taps in to repressed or forgotten issues (trauma, grief, denial, etc.) because it approaches it from a different angle.
- Allows you to practice new skills (i.e. patience, cooperation, empathy, etc.)
Where is it used?
Experiential therapy is often thought of as the exclusive dominion of residential therapy, but it can be used in many different situations in order to break out of the usual patterns. For example, it’s common for child therapists to use play therapy to work through trauma, or you might find role play especially useful in couples therapy in order to understand other points of view.
Here are some of the most common issues that are addressed through different forms of experiential therapy:
- Eating disorders
- Anger management
- Behavioral disorders (especially in youth)
- Group therapy for grief or trauma
- Interpersonal relationships and family dynamics
Experiential therapy is almost always paired with talk therapy in order to frame the therapeutic treatment and help the patient take away important lessons and set goals.
Popular forms of experiential therapy
- Animal therapy: Equine therapy is perhaps the most well-known kind of animal therapy, but different forms of animal therapy are used for many things. Usually, this means that patients are given the responsibility of caring for animals and putting their nurturing, compassionate skills to use.
- Gardening (or horticultural therapy): Similar to animal therapy, this is a form of experiential therapy wherein patients are given responsibility for other living things.
- Wilderness exploration or activities: Many residential facilities offer wilderness therapy to help patients gain perspective of their own challenges, foster self-reliance and self-worth, and to exercise courage and trust.
- Artistic therapy: This one is so common that you might not even think of it as a form of experiential therapy, but it truly is. Artistic expression helps patients learn to communicate effectively and find a new approach to the problems that plague them. Artistic therapy will range from dance and theater therapy (including role playing, use of props, improv, etc.) to visual arts like sculpting or painting.
Making experiential therapy work for you
Before embarking on experiential therapy, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of clinical practices. Depending on your needs, not everyone who claims to offer one or another kind of therapy will be right for you. Since there aren’t universal standards set up to qualify kinds of experiential therapy, you could end up with a huge variation of options. Of course, if you just want to try out a new form of thinking and learning that could lead to a better understanding of yourself and help you achieve personal goals, there’s not as much need to focus on qualifications. However, if you want to achieve essential therapeutic goals, like overcoming trauma, then you’ll want to understand the form of therapy and thoroughly explore the certifications of the facility or individual offering you the program.