Exploring different activities is an important part of addiction treatment, while patients discover and learn more about themselves and how fulfilling their lives can be in sobriety. Although the objective of all addiction inpatient treatment is to promote recovery, experiential treatment is particularly useful as a catalyst for significant lifestyle changes to achieve sustainable, long-term sobriety.


In this article, we take a look at what’s involved in experiential treatment and how it works at inpatient drug rehab and recovery.

What Is Experiential Therapy?

When most people think about therapy, they think about the kind that involves talking things through with a therapist. Experiential therapy is physical and patients at inpatient rehab centers are encouraged to use different activities to help them explore the issues underlying their addiction and find a way to work through them. There is no one type of experiential therapy; it is more a kind of therapeutic intervention that embraces several elements, including:

  • Recreation: Activities such as hiking through natural landscapes can provide patients at inpatient treatment centerswith a way to reconnect with the world around them.
  • Creative Pursuits: Music or art therapy and writing therapy such as journaling offer patients methods of self-exploration and expression that help them better understand their thoughts and feelings.
  • Adventure Therapy: Exploring new environments and learning how to take risks and push limits in invaluable in instilling self-confidence and in turn empowers patients at inpatient rehab centersin recovery.

Experiential Therapies Address Unhealthy Emotions

When someone has become dependent or addicted to alcohol or drugs, their emotions are more likely to be influenced by substances rather than conscious thought processes. This can lead to mental confusion and extreme mood swings, which are all part of the rollercoaster ride of addiction.  While under the influence of alcohol or drugs, emotional reactions to events and experiences can sometimes be debilitating and include:

  • Anger
  • Grief
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Low self-esteem

When these kinds of emotions are evoked in their daily lives, addicts often respond by turning to drugs or alcohol rather than dealing with them. What starts as a means of coping with difficult emotions can quickly become dependence or addiction with the potential for unresolved mental health issues. An Elevate inpatient treatment program uses experiential therapies to evoke uncomfortable emotions in a safe environment where patients at inpatient treatment centers are guided to work through them.

How Does Experiential Therapy Work to Help Addicts Stop Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

Our life experiences have a significant influence on who we are as people. Some people find it difficult to overcome past traumas and may have developed their own unhealthy mechanisms for coping such as using substances. It is often in the early days of this type of self-medicating when people are at their most vulnerable to developing dependency. This is because they are already setting a pattern whereby they avoid dealing with difficult emotions by using substances which quickly forces them from their minds.

Experiential therapy has been shown to be highly effective in providing the right environment for patients at inpatient rehab centers to safely evoke and navigate through difficult emotions. Whether caused by traumatic experiences or mental health disorders, experiential therapies provide the tools to process negative emotions in a healthy way. Because uncomfortable emotions and feelings act as triggers for use to someone with addiction illness, finding healthy responses is much more likely to lead to sustainable recovery.

About Adventure Therapy at Elevate

Adventure therapy is a form of experiential addiction treatment that is mostly conducted outdoors with activities including things like running, hiking, camping and rock climbing. The way adventure therapy works during inpatient drug rehab is by allowing participants to take calculated risks under supervision that encourages personal exploration and the opportunity to work through difficult life experiences. Activities are fully supervised and take place in a completely supportive environment, allowing patients at inpatient treatment centers to really push themselves and discover their potential.

Just as other types of experiential therapies, adventure therapy uses the experience of the activity to help patients learn new life skills that will be useful for relapse prevention in recovery. Adventure therapy also helps patients identify, confront and overcome deeply-held emotional issues that have driven their compulsion to abuse substance. This better understanding of themselves empowers patients to make positive changes in their lives, improving the chances of sustainable recovery after inpatient drug rehab considerably.

Adventure therapy is a completely physical form of inpatient treatment that encourages full participation rather than just observing from the sidelines. This is effective in pulling people back into the world around them from their place of isolation by engaging them in an activity that is outside their comfort zone. When patients take part in adventure therapy, the activities require ongoing reflection and introspection which promotes personal growth and progress.