You already have a difficult enough time getting your teen to talk, so what more could be achieved through a therapy session that revolves on your teen’s willingness to talk? With more teens struggling to connect with their peers and adults, communication skills are a great need in today’s society. For a teen that does not want to talk to you about their feelings, the likelihood of them enjoying a traditional therapy session is highly unlikely.
“How do you feel about that?”
“How do you feel about that” is the age-old question that is synonymous with traditional therapy. It is a question that infuriates teens and drives them further away. Getting teens to talk about their feelings and struggles by simply asking is a futile strategy. According to Janet Sasson Edgette, psychotherapist and author of “Adolescent Therapy That Really Works,” has realized “ … that direct questions about feelings are actually a source of irritation to kids. They’ll talk about them, alright, but not in a discussion isolated from the conversation at hand, with a spotlight turned on it.” Rather than presenting teens with a list of questions, experiential therapy uses activities, role-plays and social observations to better understand and relate to teens.
Experiential learning teaches through doing
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” – Aristotle
As its name suggests, experiential therapy is based on learning through experiences, rather than traditional forms of talk-therapy. Based on Aristotle’s teaching and made popular by David A. Kolb in the 1970s, experiential learning offers a hands-on approach that translates with great results when applied to therapeutic situations.
Kolb’s theory of experiential learning has four basic stages.
- Concrete experience: “It begins with doing something in which the individual, team or organization are assigned a task.” The teen is voluntarily or involuntarily involved in an event, exercise or activity.
- Reflective observation: You must step back from the activity and reflect; therapists ask questions to help the teen process the experience. What happened? What were your actions?
- Abstract conceptualization: The teen, with the help of the therapist now makes sense of what they have learned. Why did it happen? Why did you respond the way you did? What were the consequences/benefits?
- Active experimentation: After experiencing a situation and understanding more about their own thoughts and the consequences of actions, teens translate the knowledge into practical application. Why is it important? What can I do in a similar situation?
Wilderness therapy = experiential therapy
Trails Carolina’s entire program is based on experiential therapy. Placing teens in a wilderness environment consistently presents situations that help with the therapeutic process. Dealing with an unexpected thunderstorm or a miscommunication between peers places teens in real situations that challenge their social, emotional and psychological abilities. With the help of therapists and staff members, teens in a wilderness therapy program receive instant, constructive feedback. They learn how to better handle situations in the moment and are more likely to apply their learning in future challenges they face.
Though a teen might experience lasting benefits from traditional therapy, experiential therapy takes a different approach that helps teens by experiencing rather than talking.