Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) define traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect, or early exposure to mental illness or substance abuse in childhood. Different therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or experiential therapy, are used together or individually to help a person process through and heal ACEs.
A Look Into Experiential Therapy
Although there are different therapies to target different emotions and negative behaviors a person experiences due to trauma or biology, a good treatment facility offers experiential therapy. Experiential therapy is what it sounds like: therapy that processes emotions and thoughts through hands-on experiences.
People do this through art therapy, meditation, role-playing, caring for animals, and many other hands-on activities. The thought behind this is that by recreating different experiences and emotions through activities, a person can process and feel emotions in a safe environment.
For example, a person participating in horticulture therapy may experience sadness or disappointment from failing to grow a plant. However, in residential treatment, a person is in a safe, therapeutic setting where they can explore their emotions and feel them without repercussions or judgment.
The Relationship Between Cognitive-Behavioral and Experiential Therapies
CBT is a “straightforward, common-sense model of the relationships among cognition, emotion, and behavior.” This is done by analyzing automatic thoughts, cognitive distortions, and underlying beliefs. A person’s thoughts influence emotions, which in turn influence behavior.
Experiential therapy, as mentioned earlier, helps a person process emotions through hands-on activities. Working through the emotions that come from real-life problems, obstacles, or interactions in hands-on environments allows a person to process complex feelings that come up while doing an activity.
A person encounters their learned thoughts and cognitive patterns between the two therapies. They are learning skills and common-sense emotions to learn how to react better and respond. Research has found that a better sense of emotional regulation leads to better life outcomes, like a decrease in substance abuse and relapse.
What Are the Benefits of Experiential Therapy?
Due to ACEs early in life, some people do not get the space or safety to feel certain emotions. If you are raised in a physically abusive household, then chances are your emotions were downplayed or ignored altogether. This can create immediate thoughts that your feelings are invalid. It can also create cognitive distortions where you think you never matter to anyone. However, a person learns to combat those thoughts due to the benefits of experiential therapy.
#1. Gain Greater Self Awareness
When people constantly combat distorted views and thoughts of themselves, they cannot see themselves for who they are. As a result, their perception of reality gets skewed. However, a person can learn about themselves by participating in experiential therapies.
It is hard to tell yourself, “I’m a failure,” if you succeed in making a song in music therapy. If a person constantly feels like they cannot accomplish anything, completing knitting a scarf proves them wrong. It is important in SUD recovery to have self-awareness. This way, you can understand your motivations, feelings, and morals. Understanding will lead to enjoying life more rather than being stuck in thoughts.
#2. Understand Complex Emotions
Emotions can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you were punished for expressing feelings in childhood. This may have led you to push away emotions. As a result, you may have never fully felt your feelings or understood why you had them.
Complex emotions are emotions that are more than just sadness, anger, or happiness. Understanding your complex emotions allows you to express your feelings and experiences appropriately. You can also feel your emotions appropriately during difficult or triggering experiences.
#3. Safe and Supportive Environment
Just as you need to understand your complex emotions to understand and process experiences fully, you also need a safe environment. While participating in experiential therapy, someone with SUD can be in a safe environment to focus on their therapy and emotions. Environments created in residential treatment programs are free of substances and temptations and full of activities to occupy the mind.
#4. Learn to Cope With Emotions
Experiential therapy does not only allow you to learn how to feel your emotions. You can learn different coping skills for your emotions and reactions through hands-on activities.
In adventure therapy, you try to complete a physical goal, like surviving a night in the woods or completing an obstacle course. Physical challenges are strenuous and can be frustrating. By physically challenging yourself, you can force yourself to face certain emotions. However, with professional help, you can learn to cope with your emotions regardless of the situation or feelings.
#5. Change Your Life
When a person with SUD gets sober, they may realize that they missed out on learning life skills or how to be an adult—participating in programs like adulting classes can teach people how to do things for themselves.
Hope, the belief to have goals and faith in the ability to accomplish those goals, is influential in substance abuse recovery. Individuals participating in experiential therapy can gain the skills, knowledge, and perseverance to do things for themselves, like laundry, cooking, and even processing emotions. This can lead to longer-lasting and sustainable recovery.
Do you struggle with traditional talk therapy? Do you find that you don’t know how to handle or express your emotions appropriately? You are not alone; this is natural for people who need to process emotions and experiences with hands-on activities. At Laguna Shores Recovery Center, we believe your body and mind need attention for well-rounded treatment. Our experienced staff creates a welcoming, family environment that lets you get hands-on with your healing. By learning to cope with your emotions during new or challenging experiences, you can discover more about yourself for sustainable sobriety. Call Laguna Shores today at (866) 774-1532 to discuss our different programs.
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