The Benefits of Experiential Mental Health Counseling

When many people think about psychotherapy, they picture a classic scene. A therapist sits in a chair taking notes while a patient lies on a couch and talks. This kind of “talk” therapy is still in use.

However, today, many forms of psychotherapy rely on other methods. Instead of just talking to their therapist, participants play a more active role in the treatment process.

A prime example of this newer approach is experiential therapy.

Experiential therapy can be used to treat a range of mental health conditions. The therapy can also help you address underlying issues that contribute to poor mental health.

For these reasons, more and more programs have started adding experiential methods to their available treatment options.

What Is Experiential Therapy

What Is Experiential Therapy

Exactly what is experiential therapy? The term has no precise definition. However, generally accepted principles for this treatment approach include:

  • The impact of past experiences on how you think, feel and act today
  • Trust in the human ability to think deeply about those past experiences
  • A positive outlook on the human capacity to change
  • The use of active, beneficial experiences as part of therapy
  • Reliance on therapy to create real personal growth

The therapy also relies on the positive bonds between you, your therapist and all other participants. When these conditions are set, you have increased motivation to be more honest about your situation.

You also have increased motivation to work through the problems that interfere with you mental well-being. In turn, you have higher chances of finding workable solutions for short- and long-term recovery.

Types of Experiential Therapy Used in Mental Health

Numerous types of experiential therapy are used in mental health treatment. Examples of the available options include:

  • Experiential dynamic therapy
  • Experiential trauma therapy
  • Experiential family therapy

Each of these approaches help support specific aspects of your recovery.

Goals of Experiential Dynamic Therapy

Experiential dynamic therapy, or EDT, shares several principles with other experiential options. First, it views talking alone as insufficient for addressing underlying emotions. To express these emotions, you must take action. In addition, the therapy places a heavy emphasis on a working partnership between you and your therapist.

EDT seeks to help you make positive changes sooner rather than later. To achieve this goal, it also uses a key element of traditional talk therapy. Namely, it explores deep, unconscious and conflicting areas of your inner life.  

There are actually multiple kinds of EDT. Examples of these therapy sub-types include:

  • DEFT, or dynamic emotion focused therapy
  • Personality-guided relational therapy
  • IEDP, or intensive experiential-dynamic therapy

Goals of Experiential Trauma Therapy

There is no single type of experiential trauma therapy. Instead, this term refers to any experiential therapy that seeks to help you recover from past traumatic experiences.

Some people who go through these kinds of experiences try to avoid any reminders of what happened. Over time, this tendency can lead to serious problems.

One key example here is posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Research shows that the more you avoid trauma reminders, the worse your PTSD symptoms may become. By taking steps to face traumatic experiences, you help break their power over you.

Goals of Experiential Family Therapy

For many people, mental health problems are at least partially linked to problems within the family unit. This makes sense since families form so many of your perceptions of the world. That includes such thing as:

  • Your relationships to authority figures
  • The norms you set for acceptable behavior
  • The way you view yourself in relation to the world
  • Your unconscious assumptions about life in general

The goal of experiential family therapy is to explore these issues in ways that help improve your well-being. In doing so, it seeks to create a welcoming environment that allows room for honest emotional expression.

Examples of Experiential Therapy

Examples of Experiential Therapy

There are many different examples of experiential therapy. Some of these examples are sub-types of another therapy option. Others form their own separate category or treatment approach. Depending on your program, your options may include:


Psychodrama is a technique that forms part of several different kinds of experiential therapy. With help from your therapist, it allows you to safely explore situations that:

  • Have had an important impact on your life in the past
  • Are affecting you in important ways today
  • May affect you in important ways in the future

These situations may involve specific relationships. They may also involve particular events. You can also use psychodrama to address other issues. For example, it can help you work through unresolved feelings or emotions. It can also help you clarify your thoughts.

During psychodrama, you act out the thoughts, emotions or situations you need to address. This usually takes place in a group setting. The presence of others makes it possible to get help from participants playing any needed roles in your scenario.

Taking the lead in a psychodrama can help improve your mental well-being. You also benefit from watching others go through the same process.

Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a directed relaxation technique. It allows you to use your imagination to explore important experiences, thoughts, beliefs and situations.

This exploration actively involves your mind as well as your body and its five senses. In addition to calming you down, it can help you gain perspective on yourself and other people.

Animal Therapy

In animal-assisted therapy, you work to create bonds with a pet or other animal. The two animals used most often for this purpose are dogs and horses. Animal therapy can help you in a couple of ways. First, by taking care of another creature, you temporarily shift your focus away from yourself.

In turn, this allows you to take a wider view of life and your problems. Animal therapy also creates a duty of care. To succeed, you must consistently make the effort to fulfill that duty.

As a result, you improve your sense of personal responsibility and the ability to stick to a daily routine.

Creative Therapies

Therapies in this category rely on creative activities to help you explore and express yourself. Examples of such activities include:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Movement or dance therapy

At their core, all of these therapies are non-verbal. This is extremely importance because many people in treatment have trouble with verbal expression. If that applies to you, you need other ways to explore your thoughts and emotions.

You also need other ways to present your self-discoveries to others. Under the guidance of a trained therapist, creative therapies help you accomplish these vital goals.

Who Benefits From Experiential Therapy

Who Benefits From Experiential Therapy

Anyone enrolled in mental health treatment can potentially benefit from experiential therapy. That includes both adults and teenagers. Specific illnesses known to benefit from experiential techniques include:

  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Dual diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is the combination of a mental illness and an additional substance disorder. If you suffer from mental illness, you have a roughly 50/50 chance of developing such a disorder. When substance problems and mental health problems occur together, the symptoms of both conditions tend to get worse.

They also tend to become harder to treat. Only by recovering from both issues can you re-establish a reliable sense of health and stability.

On its own, experiential therapy will likely not be enough to support your recovery. Instead, as a rule, it forms part of a larger treatment plan.

Chose Treatment at Emerald Isle

Experiential therapy is a single term for a diverse assortment of mental health treatments. These treatments differ in some key respects from traditional talk therapy. In particular, they require you to become a more active participant in the recovery process.

They do so in order to help you understand the effects of past experiences on your current life. They also show you how to use experiences in therapy itself to make positive changes.

The right kind of experiential therapy will help you address deep-seated, often hidden emotions. There are also methods available to help you work through important family issues. In addition, experiential therapy can increase your ability to cope with the effects of past traumatic experiences.

The methods used to achieve these goals vary between different therapy options. Common methods include psychodrama, creative therapy, animal therapy and guided imagery.

Experiential therapy has been shown to aid recovery from a number of mental illnesses. Examples of these illnesses include eating disorders and PTSD. They also include dual diagnosis, the combination of mental illness and substance problems.

For quality experiential therapy conducted by skilled experts, choose treatment at Emerald Isle. We include a range of experiential options among our many mental health care programs.

In combination with additional forms of care, these options work to support your overall recovery. Whether you need help on an inpatient or outpatient basis, Emerald Isle has a customized plan that will suit your needs.

From an initial mental health assessment all the way to completion of treatment, we support your journey toward wellness. To learn more about experiential therapy and our other available treatments, call us today.