Most outpatient therapy programs will incorporate traditional talk therapy, CBT, DBT, and other forms of therapy to assist clients in their recovery process. Started in the early 1970s, this approach involves activities that include action and movement. Actually, experiential therapy is more a category of therapy that allows clients to address subconscious or hidden issues through the use of therapeutic activities like art, recreation, equine, music, dance, and psychodrama. A significant advantage of this approach allows the therapist to observe and interact with the client in a setting where the client isn’t so focused on the therapy itself. These practical experiences form the core process of the therapeutic event and aids in the healing process. For example when clients are painting a wall mural or creating an inside/outside mask, the casual and light interaction with others and the therapist reduces the levels of guarded or closed off behaviors normally presented in group sessions. Under the therapist guidance, clients have opportunities to identify obstacles, improve self esteem, assume new responsibilities of leadership, and enjoy success for their actions. The ultimate goal of experiential therapy is to promote emotional growth, personal empowerment and forge stronger bonds in a positive peer culture. Conversations and discussions occur during and after these types of activities and aid in processing the experience with valued feedback from the group and therapist. During this period, the client will have the opportunity evaluate both positive and negative behaviors and the triggers that prompted these actions.
Regardless of the stage of treatment, art therapy allows clients to communicate feelings and emotions through multiple mediums like painting oils and water colors, charcoals, origami, drawing, sculpting, and other creative projects. Significant emotional experiences in the recovery process are likely to prompt feelings or memories that cannot easily be put into words. Art therapy resolves this by providing a unique means of expression. With the aid of a positive peer client group, art therapy will allow clients to safely talk about suppressed feelings and emotions as they develop trust with each other.
Another important benefit that art therapy provides is that both therapist and client are taken out of the standard therapeutic setting of one-on-one or group discussions. This change may free up the patient to identify and confront issues that are guarded or may be reluctant to address in the course of traditional individual or group therapy.