Experiential Therapy for Teens

At Discovery Ranch South, therapy sessions are not limited to office hours. Therapy is integrated into every aspect of your teen's treatment. Your student will receive the best possible care, including evidence-based forms of treatment.

Dedicated therapists and highly trained staff members will guide your student through various types of experiential therapy. With many forms of treatment available, your teen will have the opportunity to experience an interactive approach to treatment that works best for them.


Key Takeaways

  • Experiential therapy is an engaging and hands-on approach to treatment. Unlike traditional talk therapy, teens participate in activities designed to address specific therapeutic goals. These activities can be recreational or focus on everyday tasks, all providing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills for future success.
  • Experiential therapy fosters deeper self-awareness and insight. By engaging in real-life situations, teens gain a better understanding of their emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors. This self-awareness is vital for positive change.
  • Experiential therapy promotes emotional processing. Many experiential activities create a safe space for teens to explore and express difficult emotions that might be challenging to address in traditional talk therapy settings.

Experiential therapy is amazing for helping teens heal emotionally. Here at Discovery Ranch South, we combine it with our caring staff and a focus on overall well-being to create a path toward lasting recovery for your teen. It's all about giving them the tools they need to build a brighter future.

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Teenagers Between The Ages of 13 and 17 Have Found The Support They Needed At Utah's Discovery Ranch South

Discovery Ranch South offers the perfect healing environment for troubled teens with mental health or behavioral issues. The Residential Treatment Program is located on a beautiful 60-acre ranch. However, it is also only 10 minutes from the urban hub of Cedar City, Utah.

Get Confidential Help Today, Call Us Anytime: 855-667-9388

What is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is a therapeutic approach that involves the use of expressive tools, activities, and hands-on experiences to help individuals explore and process their emotions, attitudes, and beliefs. It is designed to recreate real-life situations and allow subconscious or hidden feelings to emerge into conscious awareness.

Experiential therapy aims to increase self-awareness, develop deeper insight, and facilitate emotional processing through hands-on activities, role-playing, and creative expression. It is often used in conjunction with traditional talk therapies to treat a wide range of mental health issues and conditions, such as trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders.


The Benefits of Experiential Therapy in Mental Health Treatment

Experiential therapy puts therapy into action. For experiential therapy, students engage in activities designed with specific clinical outcomes in mind. It is more than just filling time. It’s creating clinical opportunities out of common – and not-so-common –activities.

Experiential therapy is a vital component of comprehensive mental health treatment, offering unique and effective ways to address various mental health challenges.

Many experiential activities at Discovery Ranch have a recreational component to them. Other activities are built around what appears to be ordinary living and working tasks. Each activity provides your student with an opportunity to learn or practice a therapeutic technique vital to future success.

Relationship-Based Treatment

Because these activities occur outside of the therapeutic setting of the office in “real life” situations, teens tend to find these experiences more authentic and meaningful than traditional talk therapy. They also provide greater understanding for your teen’s therapist about your teen’s internal processes, past experiences, and the progress of their emotional healing.

Some specific benefits of experiential therapy include improved:

  • mental health and emotional well-being
  • communication skills
  • self-awareness
  • self-esteem
  • self-care
  • social skills
  • identifying and understanding feelings and emotions on a deeper level

Types of Experiential Therapy for Teens

Because experiential therapy includes anything that provides a therapeutic “experience,” there are hundreds of types of experiential therapy.

Students traveling on a bus to an activity while attending a residential program for teens at Discovery Ranch South, a residential Treatment Center for Girls and Teens Assigned Female at Birth

Some of the most common experiential therapies include:

  • Animal-assisted therapy, including:
    • Equine-assisted therapy
    • Cow therapy
    • Dog therapy
  • Expressive arts therapy, including creative activities like:
    • Visual arts (art therapy, sculpture, painting, drawing, art appreciation, etc)
    • Performing arts (drama therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, psychodrama, etc)
      Writing & poetry
  • Adventure therapy, including:
    • Therapeutic outdoor activities like hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering, camping, etc
    • Therapeutic recreation activities like ropes courses, challenge tasks, etc.
  • Mind-Body oriented or somatic therapies:
    • Yoga therapy
    • Body-Mind Centering
    • Guided imagery
    • Mindfulness & Meditation-based experiential therapies
    • Motivational Interviewing: A type of therapy that helps individuals, particularly teens, to rediscover their intrinsic motivation and resolve ambivalent feelings.

Each of these modalities can be used according to the therapist's decision of what may be best for their clients and allow them to gain further insight along with talk therapy. Although we do not offer all of these modalities at Discovery Ranch South, our program is firmly rooted in the principles of experiential therapy.

Listen to Our Podcast about How Parents Can Empower Teens Struggling With a Mental Health Crisis

Is your adolescent daughter showing no signs of improvement in outpatient talk therapy? Are you at a standstill, uncertain about the next steps or how to provide further help for them? If so, this podcast is specifically designed for you. Our objective is to provide valuable guidance and insights from seasoned professionals, aiding you in navigating through this challenging situation.

Join us as we navigate this journey together, offering you the tools and understanding you need to support your teen's mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being. Remember, you're not alone in this, and with the right information and support, you can guide your teen toward a healthier and happier path.


Building a Strong Foundation: Experiential Therapy at Discovery Ranch South

At Discovery Ranch South, our Experiential Therapy Program offers a unique and transformative approach to adolescent therapy. By engaging in hands-on activities such as caring for newborn orphaned dairy calves, participating in equine therapy, exploring the great outdoors, expressing creativity through performing arts, and taking on peer leadership roles, teens develop crucial life skills and emotional resilience.

Our program also recognizes the importance of involving the entire family system in the recovery process, providing support for the well-being of the family as a whole. This holistic approach helps students cultivate empathy, responsibility, and teamwork while providing them with a safe environment to process their emotions and experiences. With a focus on individualized care, Discovery Ranch South is dedicated to guiding teens and their families toward lasting recovery and well-being.

Cow Therapy: Our Calf-Adoption Program

Discovery Ranch South offers the opportunity for teenagers to adopt newborn orphaned dairy calves and care for them until they are four months old. Caring for the vulnerable calves helps the students develop empathy, responsibility, and love. The program also teaches the teens about hard work, sacrifice, and service, and helps them overcome self-centered attitudes. The experience of letting go of a calf that has reached the age of independence also helps the teens process the experience of loss in a structured and safe space. The program has been particularly effective for teens who are adopted, as it provides opportunities to work through issues that may stem from their adoption.

discovery-ranch-cow.jpg (1)

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is a type of therapy session that uses horses to help teens break down barriers and open up to healing. Horses are social animals that respond well to compassionate, assertive behavior from young people and also have been known to mirror people’s emotions. Working with horses helps teens learn to recognize and regulate their own emotions, develop empathy, and improve problem-solving skills. Equine therapy helps bring issues to the surface faster than traditional talk therapy alone, leading to faster improvement. The memorable nature of the experiences contributes to students’ future successes. As Winston Churchill once said, there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a person.


Students may participate in increasingly more advanced equine groups while at Discovery Ranch South:

  • Foundational Ground Tasks Groups - Students at Discovery Ranch South begin with a set of “Grounds Tasks,” where the focus is on developing individual relationships, as your teen strives to build trust with a specific, chosen horse. This presents a set of personalized challenges and provides teens with opportunities to improve their interpersonal skills. They learn to “think outside the box,” to be assertive and aware, and to read the body language of the horses. All the while, each student is getting to know the horses and peers better.
  • Intermediate Horsemanship Groups - When students are comfortable enough working with their chosen horse, they graduate to “Horsemanship.” Where teens explore their problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. They must cope with frustration, confusion, and disappointment as they continue to work with their horse to complete therapeutic tasks. It is at this level that students are taught to ride their chosen horse.
  • Advanced Equine Groups - Finally, students may participate in “Advanced Equine.” This group is for students who love and thrive while working with horses and who choose to join. Students in the Advanced Equine Group have the opportunity to ride 3-4 times a week by participating in trail rides, attending one additional Advanced Equine group a week, and joining other horsemanship/riding groups during the week.

Outdoor Adventure & Recreation

Outdoor Recreation serves several therapeutic purposes for adolescents including:

  • Increasing motivation to move through the program
  • Relationship building
  • Self-confidence development through overcoming challenging adventure activities 
  • Learning new healthy skills that are necessary to become thriving young adults
  • A skill set to enter a new and healthier peer group.
Outdoor Adventure & Recreation

-Discovery Ranch South offers an outdoor recreation program that uses adventure activities as a means of augmenting the therapeutic process and providing meaningful opportunities for connection. Our students participate in a weekly outdoor adventure and recreation group, Friday outdoor recreation trips with their therapists, and off-campus adventure trips 1 - 2 times a month. Students may visit the local national parks on these trips, or go rock climbing at a nearby crag, among other activities.

  • Foundations of Outdoor Recreation Groups - In our Foundations Recreation Program, students are introduced to various outdoor activities specifically designed to get them out of their comfort zones, challenge current thought processes, and present positive stress situations they must navigate. This allows students the opportunity to develop new skills, refine their communication with others, improve their relationships, and feel confident in stressful situations.
  • Advanced Outdoor Adventure Groups - The Advanced Recreation Program builds on the lessons learned in the Foundational Recreation group but provides students with an additional 6-10 hours a week of adventure opportunities and skill development. In our Advanced Recreation Program, students are exposed to a much wider variety of activities that require a more advanced physical and emotional skill set to navigate. There is a higher level of perceived risk which allows the students to recognize, in the moment, areas needing continued therapeutic work. Students who choose to be in the Advanced Outdoor Adventure groups have the opportunity to embark on full-day off-campus adventures every Saturday. These adventures allow them to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of southern Utah’s red rock country. Our outdoor recreation director organizes an annual adventure trip, which serves as a platform for students to further explore outdoor recreation and adventure on a global level. Previous adventure trips have taken our students to incredible destinations such as Costa Rica, Peru, and beyond.

Performing & Expressive Arts: Art Therapy

At Discovery Ranch South, students have opportunities for creative expression through art, including visual art, music, and stage performances. Students learn a variety of skills. For example, they may learn about stage and sound production. Or they can learn about theater costumes and makeup.

Art therapy is also incorporated within family therapy sessions, allowing family members to express dynamics and information that may not arise in traditional sessions.

Teens jumping and having fun while attending residential treatment for girls and youth assigned female at birth | Discovery Ranch South

Each student is enrolled in a weekly art exploration and a performing arts foundations group. Students are also provided the option of expressing themselves through music as they learn a variety of instruments including guitar, piano, ukulele, and drums. They can also take part in our dance classes to learn many styles such as ballet, contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop.

Students also have opportunities to perform. Three times a year, our students put on a variety show for their parents and staff during the parent seminar. Our students also enjoy competing with some of our sister schools in our version of “Battle of the Bands.” For those primarily interested in arts, we offer a performing arts track.

  • Performing Arts Foundations Groups - Your teenager will have the opportunity to tell their own story actively and expressively. Creating art—whether through visual art, music, or stage performances—will also give your teen a chance to discover their feelings about their experiences in a safe and validating environment.
  • Advanced Performing Arts Groups - For our students who are especially interested in arts, we offer an “advanced performing arts track.” This supplemental program adds an extra 6-10 hours a week of advanced art classes. Students learn to compose music, write original theatrical productions, and choreograph dance routines. The art program helps students express their thoughts and emotions in their own way. These students will also attend plays off campus and take an annual trip to New York to study performing arts with our performing arts director.

Peer Leadership Program

The Peer Leadership Program offered at the ranch is a valuable part of the recovery process for many teenagers here. It allows them to demonstrate their personal growth through leadership, responsibility, and management of daily ranch tasks. Students are responsible for ensuring that the work is accomplished, and student supervisors, or peer leaders, have various supervisory jobs. The program requires students to complete a job-like application process and earn references. The available positions include supervising various chores such as calf bottle preparation and laundry. The program teaches teens about managing work responsibilities and helps them prepare for future careers.

school work

Forget About Me (FAM) Projects

Forget About Me (FAM) Projects provide an opportunity for students to engage in community service and prioritize others' needs over their own. Students complete at least two service projects during their stay, including one on-campus and one off-campus project. The service projects vary in size and scope, from picking up trash at a local recreation site to helping a wildlife reserve prepare to open. Students may also assist with other students' projects, and there are multiple service projects available each week.

Experiential therapy offers a groundbreaking approach for teens struggling with mental health issues by providing them with practical, real-world experiences to aid in their healing and growth. For families in crisis, choosing a reputable, compassionate, and effective treatment center is paramount.

Discovery Ranch South stands out as the premier program for those seeking an experiential therapy program that not only understands the unique challenges teenagers face but also offers a safe, nurturing environment for them to explore their emotions, confront their fears, and build lasting resilience. With its holistic approach, seasoned mental health professionals, and diverse therapeutic activities tailored to each individual's needs, Discovery Ranch South provides healing and a transformative journey towards lasting recovery and well-being. For any family seeking a path to healing for their teen amidst a mental health crisis, please call us today. We can help.