THE SURPRISING RESULTS FROM EXPERIENTIAL TREATMENT TECHNIQUES
In the world of modern psychology, there are a number of different treatment options available for teenagers. Though each of these treatment options offers various pros and cons, one area that has been proven to be remarkably successful has been experiential treatments. Instead of trying to treat trauma, depression, and anxiety—three common disorders experienced by teenagers—with the simple use of medication or exhausted Freudian psychology techniques, experiential treatments take a more interactive approach by helping teenagers help themselves through experiences.
Experiential treatment is an umbrella term used to describe therapies outside of traditional talk therapy. Experiential therapies incorporate creative approaches to treating mental health and behavioral issues. Using experiential therapy with teens is helpful, as many adolescents have trouble communicating openly and honestly with mental health professionals.
Experiential therapy is based in the idea that individuals learn through “doing”. Through experiential therapy, a client is able to access (and process) emotions through engaging in the physical and/or creative activity he or she is participating in. Experiential therapy became popular in the 1970s, when David A. Kolb outlined four basic stages.
1. Concrete experience
This is the stage where the individual is assigned a task, either individually or as part of a team. In Kolb’s theory, one cannot learn solely through observation. Thus, the key to this stage is active involvement.
2. Reflective observation
This stage is essentially taking a time-out from the “doing,” for the purpose of reviewing what has been experienced. Reflective observation is usually facilitated by the mental health professional through asking questions to assist the client in processing his or her experience. Common questions to encourage reflective observation include, “What happened? What was the most challenging part?, How did you contribute?”, etc.
3. Abstract conceptualization
With the help of a therapist, the individual is now encouraged to connect with, or make sense of what they learned. This stage involves looking at individual responses, and consequences and benefits.
4. Active experimentation
Having an increased understanding of one’s personal process following the experiential treatment, individuals can then apply this knowledge to more practical, everyday experiences.
EXPERIENTIAL TREATMENT BENEFITS
Specific examples of experiential treatments include those that incorporate art, music, poetry, writing, and other creative activities. One of the most immediate benefits of experiential treatment options is that, contrary to some other forms of treatment, experiential treatment is very low-risk. While the use of medication presents the risk of addiction, while Freudian psychology presents the risk of alienation, and while other more authoritative techniques present the possibility of adding additional stress to the lives of struggling teens, the outcomes of experiential treatments are entirely within their control. By engaging creatively, they are the ones who can produce what they want to. Because of this, the results of experiential treatment methods have been incredible.
Art, music, and poetry—for example—allow that which has been internalized by the individual to become externally expressed. What many teenagers who are struggling with substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other ailments really desire is the need to regain control of their lives. Creativity, by the very nature of its root word create, allows the individual to have direct control over something in their lives, and being able to control something external can empower them to control the other aspects of their life they know they must change.
WHO EXPERIENTIAL TREATMENTS BENEFIT
There have been a number of studies done on experiential treatments, and nearly all of them have produced results suggesting that the implementation of experiential treatment can be incredibly beneficial. A comprehensive review of numerous studies concluded that three groups of teenagers in particular can benefit from the use of experiential treatment. These three groups are: 1) at risk youths, 2) justice-involved youths, and 3) traumatized youths. For each of these groups, it seems, having an external method of expression is extremely important, and finding a place where they can safely express themselves can help them achieve their recovery objectives.
Advantages of Experiential Treatment for Teens
- Encourages healthy approaches to stress-management
- Improves communication skills
- Decreases anxiety
- Builds self-confidence and self-esteem
- Increases ability to work as part of a team
- Helps manage impulsivity and/or compulsive behavior(s)
Types of Experiential Treatment for Teens
- Equine therapy
- Art therapy
- Music therapy
- Narrative therapy
- Sandtray therapy
- Adventure therapy (hiking, biking, etc.)
- Wilderness therapy
EXPERIENTIAL TREATMENT AT POLARIS
At Polaris, experiential treatment has benefited numerous teens and continues to do so today. Upon their departure from Polaris, many individuals have described their creative experiences as what they believe to be the most productive component of their treatment. Many individuals feel as if finding a productive creative outlet provides them with a way to help themselves for the rest of their lives, and the poetry, paintings, and other creations that still remain at Polaris’ facilities exist as a constant source of positive inspiration to others. Evidently, experiential treatment is just one of the many unique components that has established Polaris as the premier teenage rehabilitation center in the Los Angeles area.
Naturally, finding solutions that treat chronic problems in teenagers can be extremely difficult. There exists an overwhelming number of options available, and for parents who want the very best for their teenagers, it can be difficult to discover what will be the most effective. But when individual testimonies, creative results, and scientific research are all taken into perspective, it seems experiential treatment is indeed a positive practice that offers very few drawbacks. Experiential treatments allow the individual to access a creative side they might not even have known they had, and—ultimately—can allow them to create a better world for themselves.