Human Connections Counseling Services, Mark Felber, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, Certified Experiential Therapist, Plano, Texas, 214-796-2323
Vulnerability is the soul of intimacy and lights the path to the human heart

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What Is Experiential Therapy?

Talk therapy is a process of helping the unconscious to become conscious. When we become aware of our needs, motivations, and patterns of behavior, we are able to make better choices for ourselves. Spoken communication is invaluable yet at the same time limited in helping us become aware of our inner life and our unconscious ways of relating to each other. In order to move beyond these limitations, I utilize experiential therapy techniques that place the soul in action externalizing and resolving inner developmental conflicts by re-creating personal stories from past and present circumstances and transforming them into tolerable life experiences.

Many clients use compulsive behaviors to avoid experience of self; experiential therapy offers opportunities to have direct experience of self in a safe and structured environment. Experientially, clients are able to move out of their heads and into a fuller experience at which time they can experience problems and rehearse solutions in a new way expanding their sense of self and replacing compulsive behaviors with creativity and internal safety. Empirical studies show that experiential methods help clients achieve dramatic results in the areas of psychological symptom reduction.

Many clients utilizing experiential methods to help facilitate their recovery report...

  • less intensity of perceived distress,
  • fewer compulsive thoughts, impulses and actions,
  • fewer feelings of inadequacy and inferiority,
  • fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear, and anger,
  • a greater orientation to the present,
  • a tendency to be more independent and self-supportive,
  • more flexibility,
  • more sensitivity to their own needs and feelings,
  • a greater likelihood to express feelings and be themselves,
  • and an improved capacity to develop meaningful and warm interpersonal relationships with others.

Clearing mental and emotional blocks and releasing old wounds brings greater peace of mind and emotional well-being.

As psychotherapist and author Sharon Wegscheider Cruse states, "Experiential therapy is a treatment approach that combines theory with action. It is a technique that therapists can use to touch people's lives deeply and intimately. Its effect can be profoundly healing. Treatment is a combination of knowledge and experience. To utilize one without the other is incomplete therapy. Many treatment centers and therapists do an excellent job of imparting knowledge regarding addictive diseases and codependency. Films, lectures, and readings provide enough information so that people go home 'knowing' the dynamics of addiction and codependency. But it is not enough to hand a patient or client a book or handout and say, 'Read this, and be better.' It doesn't work because it is all information and little emotional healing.

"Experiential therapy blends therapies like Gestalt and family therapy with models like sculpture and role plays. The purpose is to enact or reenact the emotional climate of the family of origin and/or other past and present significant relationships in a person's life. In re-experiencing these events and relationships, one is able to release the emotions that may have been blocked and repressed. The goal is to free a person from the unresolved emotions around relationships so that s/he is more free to live in the present. By re-experiencing the emotional climate of the family, anger, shame, hurt, rage, guilt, fear, etc., can finally be expressed, released, and healed, making room for feelings of love, hope, inner peace, and forgiveness.

"Emotions are the barometer of credibility and authenticity. They provide richness and color to life. In looking at the vast array of emotions intellectually, one knows that they are good and that all deserve to exist. Yet it is clear that some are more desirable, more pleasant than others.

"Some people have locked a whole set of emotions into a closet, to be hidden from all, to be forgotten by themselves. Frequent occupants of these locked closets are anger, loneliness, inadequacy, hurt, guilt, fear or sadness. They form almost a mob of feelings demanding attention. Feelings are facts. Feelings like all reality, have a right to exist.

"Reality is intolerant of denial. When feelings are repressed, they demand attention in devious ways. The emotional connection between stress and stomach problems is common knowledge. Research is showing more and more that the whole person becomes ill, not just part of the person. Consequently, emotions are similar to muscles—if you don't use them, you lose them.

"The patient reports, 'I know about denial; I know about compulsion; I know about feelings. But I still do the same kinds of things that get me in trouble.' That's where actual experience—personally encountering or undergoing specific emotions and behaviors—can be helpful in breaking out of compulsion and denial. Experiential therapy offers emotional alternatives and clarity about new behaviors.

"One important goal of therapy is to re-experience an old event in which the accompanying emotions were not expressed at the time. The re-experience can be an opportunity to feel those feelings now, work through them now and defuse them once and for all. The accompanying emotional pain is no longer repressed and allowed to fester.

"Old feelings we often help clients re-experience are anger, inadequacy, jealousy, loss, grief, and shame. In the re-experience, they are able to let the pain go, and relief begins. New feelings that are unfamiliar and often scary are feelings of contentment, serenity, hope, trust, excitement, gratitude, and joy. It is important to lead clients to these new feelings. Too often, therapy only deals with pain.

"In a painful family system, words and messages are confused, confusing and incongruent. Words are misused and messages mistrusted. Actions do not fit. These are double messages delivered over and over and received each time with confusion and shame. The resulting confusion is devastating and produces people with chronic low self-worth. Experiential therapy can expose double messages by leading people to discover their own emotions and to see the roles others play.

"In therapy, we can often lead people to healing these feelings for the first time. We see self-esteem blossom. Through interaction with others and through expressing both old and new feelings, we provide a means for people to develop an ability to trust, as well as insight leading to new choices and a sense of inner comfort.

"Experiential therapy may offer some people the opportunity to re-experience forgotten or repressed parts of their lives that may have been unavailable to them for a long period of time. For others, experiential therapy may provide the first opportunity to feel some feelings. Either way, by gaining the experience, they acquire the means to better cope with life. They are ready then to learn new experiences they can use to continue on the road to growth and recovery."

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