Experiential Psychotherapy…Getting Beyond the Words
So there I was, dressed in bright primary colours, floor length skirt, cape, ribbon in my hair and a bird perched carefully on my index finger, singing “Some day my prince will come….” Yes, I am Snow White, flitting about, helping those on my path, enchanting and opening myself to everyone around me. Why? Because this is the role my therapist chose for me. The role she thought would reawaken tenderness in my heart that had been lost through years of protecting myself from one tragic story after another.
A lot has been written about experiential psychotherapy. Simply put, it is therapy which gets behind a client’s words and helps them connect to their feelings and perhaps even create an experience of a new way of being. Clients can get very stuck in their stories, telling them the same way each time, with the same words, tone and emotion. Some may even arrive to a session, having already rehearsed what they want to say. Like cross-country skiing, when you start on that well-groomed track, it’s almost impossible to stray from the path. This is great if you don’t want to get lost, but not so great if you want to go somewhere new. Setting out in a direction that the client has not anticipated makes it harder for them to control the outcome.
There are as many creative moments in therapy as there are therapists. We bring our backgrounds and experiences to each session, risking along with our clients. While staying within professional and ethical boundaries, the experiential therapist allows themselves to jump into the unknown. The comfort of sitting back, nodding empathically and asking “so how does that make you feel?” is behind us and we can never know for sure how receptive or able the client will be to work outside of their comfort zone.
A therapist may be versed in many styles of experiential work including, but not exclusive to: role playing, art, writing, movement, energy, voice dialoguing, inner child, creative visualization and sound. However, experiential work is not just a series of modalities or techniques. The magic happens when a client is supported in developing an inner awareness as they go through these sessions, staying present to what is actually happening for them, which may differ from or confirm how they assumed they’d feel or have felt in the past. This creates the possibility that a person can go beyond who they think they are, or should be, and connect to who they actually are, in this moment. Often the client will then know, with certainty, what their next steps need to be. They don’t require a therapist to instruct them. They are now able to speak and act from a place of truth, which supports them in making decisions and moving forward with integrity.
Even though many years have passed since I roamed the streets as Snow White, she is forever with me and when I need to remember my heart, she’s right there, singing in my ear, charming me still.
To learn more about some of the modalities listed above, check out the Discovering the Total Self Program as well as our Spiritual Psychotherapy Training Program.
Michelle DesRoches is a Spiritual Gestalt Psychotherapist, senior faculty and graduate of the Transformational Arts. She can be reached at 416-556-3965.