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Experiential Therapies Explained!

Have you noticed how hard it can be to talk about difficult things? Tired of talking about the same thing over and over, but not feeling any better? Have you realized what you need to do to change, but never were able to make that a reality? Let’s face it, working on difficult issues or dealing with traumatic experiences is HARD! It can be exhausting. It can feel less like growth and more like being stuck, spinning your wheels endlessly.

Here's where I offer you an amazing, easy fix for difficult life problems....well, not exactly. Experiential Therapies harness the power of doing instead of talking as the primary focus of services. Art Therapy, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Play Therapy and Sandtray Therapy are just a few experiential services that help us create healthier relationships and choices.

You probably remember that feeling - being stuck in a feedback loop of saying, doing, repeating the same things over and over again. Knowing what you need to do to change but just not able to take the steps in the right direction. Your head and mouth know what to do, but your behaviors and emotions stay the same. You might use your intellect and words to get out of situations, but you keep finding yourself back where you started.  Instead of getting stuck, we can break free of old thoughts and habits by doing something.  Imagine a time that you stressed about a project, a conversation or task.  Once you got started, it all fell into place, right? Or you problem-solved the situation until you either gave up or accomplished the task.  Either way, you did something, made choices and followed through.  That is the foundation of experiential therapies - doing.   When we are asked to do, instead of talk, we often re-experience old thoughts, feelings and actions. What would it be like to practice changing those aspects while in a safe, comforting environment? When we use experiential activities in therapy, we feel, believe and experience all the same stress and anxiety that happens in real life situations, but without any real life consequences.  Picture this - Without being told how to accomplish this task, go halter a horse in a field. I bet a lot of thoughts and emotions were stirred up! Thoughts like "How could she set me up to fail?," "There's no way I can do this hard thing!," even "The horse is going to hate me, I shouldn't even try."  Or the request kicked up a lot of emotions - fear, loneliness, excitement, surprise, anger. You might have felt things in your body such as numbness, tingling, butterflies, heart palpitations.   What would be the worst thing that happened if you did not accomplish your task? Not much, right? When we engage with art, play, games and horses in therapy, we are able to try on new hats, decide if a coping strategy would actually work in the real world, do things differently and explore new ways to build relationships.  All within the safety of an activity with no real world consequences. 

Marla Berger is a Registered Art Therapist, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, Eagala Advanced Certified and Natural Lifemanship Trained. Her practice, Berger Counseling Services, is located in Parkland, FL. She has been serving the community for over two years since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy and now offers Holding Space Relief Sessions incorporating art, play and horses for those affected by COVID-19.

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