Reignite the Passion for Living Through Experiential Therapy

Imagine in the center of your chest, your beating heart. The pulsing drum that keeps you warm, filled with rhythm, the will to live, move, and feel. Now imagine in the center of your chest, nothing. You exist, but in vacuo. The addict in the throes of their disease is hollow—trying to fill that space with numbness, alcohol, a haze of drugs, or other addictive habits.  If the vacuum can’t be filled, at least, they figure, it becomes covered. Traditional therapeutic methods can remove the addict’s “blankets,” but all too frequently patients are left out in the cold again with the same void they began with—and relapse all too soon after completing treatment. Experiential therapy is a holistic approach to healing someone’s physical health and removing their addiction by going below the surface and refilling their heart.

At Alta Mira, we know that life is beautiful, meant to be lived to the fullest, in good health and with a full heart. Holistic healing can remind addicts of the passion for living that is latent within them, ready to be reawakened.

What is the “Experience” of Experiential Therapy?


A person’s passion for living is like a flame: when ignited, it feeds on experience and grows brighter, going through flux, but illuminating a life. Clinical addiction treatments can clear the wick and give the flame room to breathe, but experiential therapy lights the spark again.

Essentially, the experience is of becoming part of something larger than one’s self: becoming part of a social group, becoming part of nature, becoming part of an experience with art, music, or adventure. When you’re ziplining in the Redwoods, your heart is fully in your chest, and you’re caught in the thrill of adventure in the most beautiful forests of California. It takes an addict out of their sense of removal, isolation, and emptiness, but fills their internal space with the natural warmth of friendship, beauty, and adventure that belongs there.

Equine therapy, such as horseback riding in the Marin Headlands, is another way for patients to develop a sense of belonging by bonding with their horse and the other participants. Developing a sense of control and responsibility in their relationship with the horse, and moving patiently through nature together opens a quiet space where meditative joy can grow. It allows the light to grow and develop within a person, and place them back in their own shoes.

Although it seems intuitive that developing a joy for living would heal an addict from the inside out, when you need a serious lifestyle change and an effective recovery, you look for methods that produce results. With experiential therapy, the clinical evidence is as strong as the stories behind it.

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The Concrete Evidence


So what exactly defines experiential therapy, from a clinical perspective? There is an immediacy to the results of experiential therapy—it deals directly with the individual’s response to their environment.

E.T. Gendlin discusses experiential psychotherapy in his work Current Psychotherapies:

Experiential psychotherapy works with immediate concreteness. One’s sense of immediate experiencing is not emotion, words, muscle movements, but a direct feel of the complexity of situations and difficulties.

Robert Elliott & Elizabeth Freire of the University of Strathclyde put to test the efficacy of experiential therapy in their 2008 meta-analysis of patients during and after their experiential and person-centered therapy. Since the scientific world often eschews the subjective and the emotional, the results were “stunningly” effective compared to the expectations of the clinical therapy world—so much so, in fact, that they felt compelled to introduce their findings by saying: “we found some of the results so different from widely-held beliefs in the mental health field that we felt compelled to go back and re-do them, just to make sure we had not made a mistake somewhere.”

The result was that Elliott and Freire’s subjects who underwent experiential therapy showed impressive rates of sustained improvement during and after the therapy. They describe the results as producing a very large positive effect, many times larger than effects typically found for common medical procedures or medications. In other words, experiential therapies can make a much larger and more profound impact in addicts’ lives, particularly when coupled with other treatment methods.

Finding the Right Experiential Therapy Program


The key to any treatment is that it needs to fit the individual. Especially with experiential therapy, you need to find something that can draw the addict out of their present state by engaging them in something they can become passionate about. Fortunately, California is blessed with beautiful natural surroundings and a vibrant cultural scene to delve into. Whether it’s experiencing San Francisco’s world-class art museums, sailing the bay, or hiking on Mt. Tamalpais, the experiential therapy offered at Alta Mira’s San Francisco Bay treatment center can ignite their passions and renew their joy in living. Coupled with the wide variety of additional treatments to form an individualized treatment plan, this type of therapy provides a strong foundation upon which to build a new life in recovery.

If you know someone who needs to refill their heart, ignite their passion for living, and find joy in a clean life, contact us today. We want to help people get their lives back.