There is a famous moment in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in which Hamlet asks a group of actors to put on a play that bears a strong resemblance to some misdeeds he believes his uncle and mother have committed. The goal, as Hamlet puts it, is to “catch the conscience of the king.”
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It turns out that something similar can be helpful for individuals who have experienced trauma in a relationship. Experiential therapy involves the reenactment and re-experiencing of moments in a past relationship that have become emotional weights a person struggles to carry forward.
That might sound like a terrible idea. Who would want to experience a traumatic event again? Why would anyone want to reenact a painful event? It’s one thing for Hamlet to try to use theater as a way to determine the guilt of his uncle; it’s quite another to use similar techniques to delve deeply into one’s own difficult past.
Those are reasonable questions and fair points. Nevertheless, it turns out that experiential therapy can be quite helpful in terms of helping an individual understand what emotions were in play during a traumatic moment. By doing so, a person has the opportunity to find healthier and more effective ways to address those emotions—and that can make all the difference when it comes to maintaining your hard won sobriety.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Explore Experiential Therapy
As the name implies, experience is central to experiential therapy. In fact, it is the process of recreating in one form or another that sets the therapy apart from other therapeutic practices. Rather than relying on internal processes or talk therapy, experiential therapy involves a variety of expressive activities. For example, role play, guided imagery, arts and crafts projects, and more are possible avenues for exploration in experiential therapy.
As we have noted, the point of these activities is to recreate or reimagine traumatic past experiences in an effort to identify the specific emotions that were part of the experience. Once a person can accurately identify and consider the emotions—which may include anger, shame, hurt, fear, or other difficult feelings—it becomes easier to release those emotions and leave the painful incident or relationship more firmly in the past.
Finding a healthy way to process difficult emotions and to come to terms with trauma can be particularly helpful for those who are in recovery from a substance use disorder. After all, past traumas that continue to impact a person’s present in negative ways can make it more likely that the individual will turn back to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to lessen the intensity of the negative emotions. Indeed, the past traumas may well have contributed to the initial development of the substance use disorder.
One Option Among Many
Experiential therapy is one of many different therapeutic approaches that might be helpful depending on an individual’s specific situation and needs. A trained therapist will listen intently before making a recommendation regarding therapy. No matter what that recommendation turns out to be, the goal is the same: supporting a person’s overall mental well-being, which in turn supports ongoing sobriety.
Would You Benefit from Therapy?
It seems safe to say that Hamlet, the tragic prince with whom we started this conversation, would have benefited from therapy. Perhaps his story would have ended less tragically if he had had access to trained mental health professionals. Truthfully, the whole play is filled with characters who might have been well served by therapy but didn’t have access to it.
Happily, you do, in fact, have access to trained mental health professionals. So, if you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, with a mental health disorder (like depression, anxiety, or a disorder caused by trauma), or both, you can get the help you need to reclaim your life and move forward in a positive way.
Bel Aire Recovery Center Is Ready to Help
At Bel Aire Recovery Center, we are committed to providing exceptional detoxification, rehabilitation, and mental health services. We meet each person where they are and design a treatment program specific to their needs—because there is no cookie cutter solution when it comes to substance use and mental health disorders. All of this is essential because mental well-being and ongoing sobriety are intertwined. We are also committed to a continuum of care so that you can begin your recovery journey confident that you will have the support and resources you need to maintain your sobriety.