Experiential therapy was developed as a therapeutic approach in the 1970s. Based on the open-minded zeitgeist of that time, experiential therapy opened the door to a new approach based on experiential theory. This theory proposes that healing is best achieved through firsthand, body-based experiences.
As the name indicates, experiential therapy is typically hands-on, involving interactive techniques as opposed to traditional talk therapy. Thus, experiential therapy helps clients to process core emotional challenges. Through adventure therapy, music therapy, expressive arts, equine therapy, and other modalities, experiential therapy allows clients to express or re-enact emotional situations from the past. Therefore, a client can identify emotions associated with trauma, self-esteem issues, and many other psychological challenges.
With the guidance of a therapist trained in experiential therapy, a person can explore blocked feelings of anger, hurt, or shame. Moreover, they can uncover past experiences and then process the pain through tools acquired in experiential learning.
Based on Gestalt therapy, in which experiences are favored over language, experiential therapy is founded in the idea that perception governs behavior. Furthermore, actions are needed to change perception. Thus, experiential therapy is often useful in the treatment of teen depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and various types of behavioral addictions.
Sources: Association for Experiential Education, Gestalt Psychology (Encyclopedia Britannica), National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIH)