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Experiential Therapy in Northern California

While compassionate care is our goal, the single most important through-line in Align Recovery Centers’ philosophy of care is: Personalized and integrated care.

There is no “one size fits all” program, and, no perfect solution to achieving lasting recovery.

Experiential therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the importance of engaging in activities and experiences to promote emotional healing and personal growth.

It is based on the belief that individuals can gain insight and make positive changes by actively participating in and reflecting upon their experiences.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion provides: “for every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Many substance abusers have been bombarding their brains with dopamine, stimulating the “pleasure part” of the brain’s reward system. This has led to the creation centers of dopamine being overworked due to constant stimuli. Having begun recovery, brain scans show a marked decrease in dopamine production and therefore a dopamine deficit that takes time to balance out. New activities, particularly expressive or creative endeavors, help create new neural pathways that help reignite dopamine production.

In substance abuse treatment, experiential therapy can be an effective approach to address the underlying issues that contribute to addictive behaviors. By engaging in experiential activities, individuals are encouraged to explore their emotions, beliefs, and behaviors in a safe and supportive environment. Here are some examples of experiential therapy techniques commonly used in substance abuse treatment:

Art Therapy

This involves using various art forms, such as painting, drawing, sculpting, or collage, to express emotions, explore inner conflicts, and promote self-awareness. Through the creative process, individuals can gain insights into their substance abuse patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure-based activities, such as outdoor challenges, ropes courses, or team-building exercises, are used to promote personal growth, self-esteem, and the development of problem-solving skills. These activities provide opportunities for individuals to face fears, overcome obstacles, and build trust and cooperation with others.


This therapeutic technique involves role-playing and reenacting situations relevant to the individual’s life and substance abuse issues. It allows participants to gain a deeper understanding of their feelings, behaviors, and relationships, as well as explore alternative perspectives and solutions.


(and self-hypnosis)

By voluntarily entering into an altered consciousness or altered state, clients can experience focused, inner experiences which can involve their thoughts, memories, feelings and deep relaxation.  By being deeply absorbed and acutely mentally aware of their inner selves, hypnosis can assist in strengthening willpower and curbing addictive cravings and urges. With time and practice, clients may develop a capacity to breaking free from certain long-term behavior patterns even when back in the waking state.

Equine-Assisted Therapy

Interacting with horses in a therapeutic setting can provide valuable insights into interpersonal dynamics, boundaries, and trust. Individuals may engage in activities such as grooming, leading, or riding horses, which can promote self-confidence, empathy, and emotional regulation.

Music Therapy

Utilizing music and sound to facilitate emotional expression, relaxation, and self-reflection. Participants may engage in activities such as songwriting, playing instruments, or guided listening to explore their emotions, find outlets for self-expression, and develop coping skills.

Psychodramatic Bodywork

This approach combines elements of psychodrama and bodywork techniques, such as massage, breathwork, or movement therapy. It helps individuals connect with their emotions stored in the body, release tension, and gain insights into their substance abuse patterns and associated feelings.

Expressive Writing

This involves using written expression, such as journaling or poetry, to explore and process thoughts, emotions, and experiences related to substance abuse. It provides a private space for self-reflection, self-discovery, and personal growth. Studies have shown journaling to lead to a decrease in anxiety, creates awareness, regulates emotions, and promotes both better awareness and even physical healing. 

These examples illustrate how experiential therapy can complement traditional talk therapy approaches in substance abuse treatment.

By engaging in experiential activities, individuals can tap into their inner resources, gain new perspectives, and develop healthier coping mechanisms to support their recovery journey.

Four people on a mountain top
Dana Hamilton, Executive Director

Dana, with over 20 years in addiction therapy and counseling, is the Executive Director at Align Recovery Centers. Holding a B.S. in Human Services and an M.A. in Counseling & Psychology, she’s both an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and a Substance Use Disorder Certified Counselor. Specializing in DBT and CBT, Dana effectively manages both residential and outpatient programs. Her interests include gardening, cooking, and delving into psychological research in her spare time.