When Talk Therapy Isn't Adequate: The Advantages of Experiential Therapy for Teenagers Dealing With Mental Health Crises

Are you frustrated by the lack of progress in traditional talk therapy? Are you wondering why it isn't working? You're not alone. Many families face the same struggle. When it comes to addressing mental health needs in teenage girls and youth assigned as female at birth, talk therapy is often the first line of treatment. However, this traditional approach may not provide the desired results for some teens. This is where experiential therapy comes in – an exceptional form of therapy that focuses on hands-on, interactive experiences to promote healing and personal growth.


Exploring Experiential Therapy: Making Progress When Other Types of Therapy Fall Short

As a parent, it’s frustrating when your teenager has been in therapy for a while but hasn’t made any significant progress with their mental health and behavioral issues. It’s difficult to know what the next steps might be toward making progress. If you’re in this situation, it may be time to consider experiential therapy as an option.

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, and Jennifer Hedrick, MS, LCMHC, Clinical Director at Discovery Ranch South, discuss:

  • What is experiential therapy and how does it work?
  • How does experiential theory differ from talk therapy?
  • What would experiential therapy look like for my teenager?
  • How will my teenager benefit from experiential therapy?
A teenage girl looks through a microscope while attending a residential anxiety treatment center | Discovery Ranch South - a residential treatment center for adolescent girls and teens assigned female at birth

If your child has gone through talk therapy and hit a wall, we have a solution. At Discovery Ranch South, we offer personalized mental health treatment that enables teenagers to live a life filled with meaning and self-reliance. Our therapeutic program helps in creating life-changing experiences and building strong relationships. Start healing today. To learn more about our services, call us at 855-667-9388.

Experiential Therapy Podcast Transcript

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    Tiffany: Welcome to our podcast. Is your adolescent daughter showing no sign of improvement in talk therapy? Do you feel you're at a standstill, uncertain about the next steps of how to provide further help for them? If so, this podcast is specifically designed for you. Our objective is to provide valuable guidance and insight from seasoned professionals aiding you in navigating through this challenging situation.

    When it comes to addressing mental health needs in teenage girls and youth assigned female at birth, or AFAB, talk therapy is often the first line of treatment, which it should be. However, this traditional approach may not provide the desired results for some individuals. This is where Experiential Therapy comes in, a unique form of therapy that focuses on hands on, interactive experiences to promote healing and personal growth.

    In this podcast, we will explore the benefits of Experiential Therapy for teenage girls and youth assigned female at birth struggling with a mental health crisis and why Discovery Ranch South Experiential Therapy program may be the best solution for those families in crisis.

    Please remember that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy. Please always seek a mental health professional for your situation.

    All right, let's get started. I'm Tiffany Herlin, a licensed clinical social worker, and today we have a rather unique podcast series where we'll be interviewing a few experts on this topic from Discovery Ranch South, a residential program for teenage girls and youth assigned female at birth.

    I'm so excited about this topic because, as a therapist myself, I'm passionate about experiential therapy and how powerful it is. So I'm excited today for our first episode to be interviewing Discovery Ranch South Clinical Director Jennifer Hedrick, and we will be addressing the limitations of talk therapy and further explore the benefits of experiential therapy.

    Thank you so much for coming today. We're excited to have you.

    Jennifer: Thanks. My pleasure.

    Tiffany: Let's jump in first. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Discovery Ranch South.

    Jennifer: Yeah. Okay. So I have a long history in mental health and in college counseling. That's actually where I started, was in college counseling. I worked in development, student development. I taught college courses. I did that actually for 20 years and during that time, I started working with adolescents and then started working with adolescents who are transitioning out of treatment and that's how I got, you know, kind of passionate, excited rejuvenated, I think, in helping people, helping kids kind of learn to be, you know, the best version of themselves as adults. And so I've worked in residential treatment and wilderness for about the past 13 years and so that's how I landed at Discovery Ranch about three years ago.

    Tiffany: That's awesome. You came across this at a pivotal point for a lot of kids who, I think the hardest part for parents who have been through residential treatment, that transition home is so critical and can be, feel so uncertain. So yeah, you've got a great perspective on the tell end of things.
    Jennifer: Right, right. Yeah. I kind of did it all backwards, which has actually given me a really, a really good and unique perspective because parents will always ask, like, does it work? Like that's the question. And the reality is, like, there is, the transition is as important as the beginning.
    Tiffany: That's fascinating. And I love that you have that perspective that you'll be able to, I'm sure, we'll gain insight from during this conversation that we have.

    Jennifer: Awesome.

    Talk Therapy: A First Line of Defense

    Tiffany: Well, thank you for being here again today. Let's first start with talk therapy. Everyone knows what it is. It's usually the first line of defense, right? Parents find a therapist. They usually find someone and they decide to go to what, you know, once a week, maybe every other week depending on the severity of the issue, right? And so that's where a lot of people start, which is where they should start.

    Jennifer: Right. Absolutely. Yeah.

    Tiffany: Yeah. It's not like if, if you're not in crisis, you don't go to the emergency room.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: You start with your, you know, family physician.

    Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. It's the natural order, I think, for sure. And so, do you just want me to talk about talk therapy or...?

    Tiffany: No, let's talk about the pros and cons of it first.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: Cause it's not, we don't want to come out of this saying like, It's not helpful, but there is a point where you reach limitations of it being helpful.

    Jennifer: Sure.

    Advantages of Talk Therapy

    Tiffany: So let's talk about the pros first. What are those?
    Jennifer: Yeah, I think that one of the biggest pros is just the initial getting help. So, you know, students or kids have identified that, you know, there's a problem at home. Often they don't go on their own volition. Of course, you know, parents are like, you need to do this.

    Tiffany: But sometimes they do. Sometimes they're like, I want to help.

    Jennifer: Absolutely.

    Tiffany: Those are my favorite kind.

    Jennifer: That's true.

    Tiffany: Because they're the easiest to work with but that's not always the case.

    Jennifer: Yeah. Yes. So I think that, I think that it's that initial, like, laying the foundation for reducing the stigma, ultimately of like, this is okay, like lots of people get help. I mean, you know, therapists in this community, for instance, are like, they have six week long waiting lists because so many people are asking for help. So, I think that that learning that they can trust, establish a relationship with someone to be able to, you know, either just talk about what's going on, say the things that maybe they wouldn't say to somebody else. So it's having kind of that safe spot to let go and really feel like they're being seen and heard. So I think for young people, I think that's huge. And that...

    Tiffany: Can I add to that?

    Jennifer: Yeah, please.

    Tiffany: I think too, like that having someone to validate.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: Hold space for them. There's something about having a witness.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: Through your pain.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: And then someone when you can really establish a therapeutic relationship, someone to call you on your B.S. as well, right? That's super helpful.

    Jennifer: Right. Totally.

    Tiffany: And making it a cognitive process so that you can, you know, see what you're doing and stop the cycles. A lot of times, I've been to therapy personally and I love that I was able to be like, oh, I'm in my cycle. This is what I typically do. Now being aware and realizing like, what do I want to do differently.

    Limitations of Talk Therapy

    Jennifer: Right? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that, so, I want to move to like, can we move to the con parts? I'm thinking about like all of that stuff is for everybody, right? It's for adolescents. It's for teenagers. It's for 80 year olds if they decide they want to go to therapy as well. And I think I want to focus mostly on the con for, for teenagers who do talk therapy. And ultimately I think what it comes down to is that if the issues have gotten to a point where, you know, talk therapy, again, it establishes all those things that we've just talked about.

    But the reality is that if they're going back to the environment where a lot of their issues occur, so whether that's in the family, whether that's at school, whether that's, you know, with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, peer group, peer group, et cetera, there is not going to be any kind of internalization that's going to occur because the therapy is happening in a vacuum.

    And so it's like we're talking about the problems in the office. And now I'm going back and I'm not sort of transferring what I'm learning outside of here. And so that's when you start to see is that like they might be good for a little while, but that environment reinforces, the environment that they go back to reinforces those maladaptive behaviors. Which makes sense, right? Like, these kids learn maladaptive behaviors to get through the problems that they're experiencing in their environment.

    Tiffany: It's their coping skills.

    Jennifer: It's their coping skills, right. And so ultimately, that's when we know that something different needs to happen, is that there's, they'll go, even if they're still going to therapy, but we're just not seeing the change outside of therapy.

    Tiffany: It's proof is in the pudding, right? Like if their actions aren't matching up with their behavior, then as a parent, that's a good red flag for you to realize, like, they may be able to talk the talk, but they're not walking the walk and applying and really seeing that change, that the whole reason why you go to therapy.

    I've had friends come to me and be like, Tiffany, you know, my therapist is great and they listen to me. But I need more, you know, like I feel like all they do is validate me, but I need someone who can help me take the next step. And that's often all times I'll be like, well, maybe you need to start looking for a new therapist at that point. If you need something new, you're allowed to speak up and ask for it.

    So yeah, there are limitations with talk therapy or there's... yeah, limitations meaning like you just get max benefits out of it, to a point.

    Jennifer: Absolutely. And yeah, and I think moving on to somebody else is a good, it's a good strategy. I think for some of these teenagers where, you know, if you don't see a change in those behaviors or they actually might increase, then that's, you know, that's where the change becomes necessary.

    Tiffany: Yeah. I just want to share just briefly, cause I think it applies to this, my own personal experience. I had been to therapy for a number of years and felt like I talked about everything, felt like I was really aware and I knew my cycles, but I could feel that I needed more. And that's when I started seeking out kind of my own personal experiential therapy and got into more like yoga and other things with, you know, supplements of my therapy. And so it was an interesting pivotal point in my own personal journey realizing like, talk therapy only got me so far.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: Like, and I knew that there was more healing ahead and things I could work through but I couldn't cognitively do it. I needed something to provide an experience to allow me to gain greater insight, which leads us to experiential therapy, which is why, honestly, I love it.

    I'm like, I'm, as a therapist, I hate just sitting and talking. Well, let me rephrase it. I don't hate it. It's beneficial in certain places and times that I love giving my clients experiences and things to do to push them further.

    Jennifer: Right.

    The Need for Experiential Therapy

    Tiffany: I do want to point out just a few facts. Let's jump back to, with some of the limitations of talk therapy, we have a statistic as I was looking through different research about this is about, so 75 percent of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefits from it. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotional and physical well being and is linked with positive changes, yet that also lets us know that 25 percent out of 100, aren't really showing benefits from it.

    Jennifer: Mm hmm.

    Tiffany: There's another research that showed that CBT therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one of the most, you know, researched and well known, and it's most effective that we found, based off our research, that it's helping treatment for those coping with depression and anxiety and alone is about 50 to 75 percent effective, which means again, that there's about 25 to 50 percent of people that are not receiving full benefits. So there is this need. It's not a big huge need.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: But it's a need. So if there's, if you're listening to this podcast, parents, you are not... this is not your first rodeo. You're well seasoned. You're feeling a little bit at your wits end of like, okay, we've tried all these scenes and we're still not seeing the changes. Maybe the behavior is not increasing and getting worse. And so what's next?

    So what other options are there besides talk therapy? And that's where bringing my excitement to experiential therapy.

    Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think you kind of, you actually hit on it, Tiffany, a little bit earlier when you're talking about your own experience of like, I need something more. And so then you use, you know, you said yoga and I think that's where experiential therapy hits for people is not... it's in the body, right? And so that's kind of the... that's an untapped resource ultimately when we think about our experiences as human beings, they're not just in our brain, they're in our body too. And so for instance, trauma, if we have experienced trauma, you know, we can talk about it all day long, but that's not necessarily going to create a full healing experience because so much of our trauma actually gets stuck in our nervous system.

    Tiffany: In fact, it can be triggering if not talked about correctly and in the right environment.

    Jennifer: Right, exactly. And so obviously there are modalities that we use in talk therapy that include the nervous system that is more somatically based, but experiential therapy provides just another opportunity to access what's going on in the body.

    Challenging Comfort Zones with Experiential Therapy

    Jennifer: I think the other thing, some of the reasons why experiential therapy is super helpful is that it creates a discomfort that someone hasn't had before. So we get really comfortable in talk therapy, right? You said you did. I do too. I mean, I shouldn't do talk therapy, like I could, you know, therapy my way out of a therapist's office really quickly because I know the, you know, I know the lingo and some of the students that we work with who've been in therapy for a long time, they're therapy savvy.

    And so we want to create, you know, kind of a new disruption, a new discomfort in the positive sense to like get them out of their comfort zone. And ultimately it's going to like, I don't want to use the word force, but it's going to foster, there's the word, foster an opportunity for them to access something that they haven't accessed before.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I 100 percent agree. And I believe your motto is to, your goal is to nurture and challenge your students.

    Jennifer: Yes.

    Tiffany: And I think experiential therapy creates that.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: It provides a nurturing environment, but also a challenging environment. I've worked at a residential treatment, a couple of residential treatment programs before as a therapist and doing experiential therapy, we often talked about there being a perceived threat, right? When you're creating an experience, sometimes our kids think oh, you know, there is a perceived threat when in reality there's not.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: It's a safe environment, but yet you're providing enough challenge to push them out of their comfort zone because it's so easy, we as a society and the older you get, and the more mature your brain develops, we have these natural cognitive self defense mechanisms that makes it easy to kind of, you know, talk around therapists, B.S. our way, be therapeutic savvy, and so therefore, really It's not even always cognitive either.

    Sometimes we do it without realizing it, but it's just self protection.
    Jennifer: Sure.

    Tiffany: Right? At that point...

    Jennifer: Another defense mechanism.

    Tiffany: Our brains hate changing.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: Brains fight us on change. That's why habits are so hard to do. That's why New Year's resolutions are so hard because our brains are like, no, no, no. I want to do what I know I can do and I know what's going to happen.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: I don't want to change.
    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: They hate it. So it's hard. So helping foster this experience for our students is essential to helping them change and heal.

    Benefits of Experiential Therapy

    Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and I think that with, so there's that stuff, and then the cool, sort of, I guess, an added benefit of experiential therapy is that... so if you take like three areas: equine, assisted psychotherapy, and you take rec therapy and you take PA, or performing arts program, ultimately it not only provides an opportunity for expansion, right? So for therapeutic expansion because we're tapping into... we're tapping into and accessing stuff in these students that they haven't accessed before.

    So there's that plus the added benefit of you might actually get good at something too. So a lot of students like. You know, they, they will end up like becoming really good at a skill or a craft, sometimes that they never thought they could, or some it's something that they're picking up. It's an old hobby that they're picking up that they let go because they were depressed or anxious or had a traumatic experience or, you know, et cetera, et cetera.

    Tiffany: Well, there's a really cool theory I just want to point out that's called the Broaden-and-Build Theory that focuses on how when we have negative experiences, we have an action that's very narrow. Like, if I'm angry, then I'm going to fight, right? If I'm scared, I'm going to flee. They're very narrow, limited experiences.

    But when we have an opportunity to experience positive experiences, it broadens us to have... to do more creative things, play, build ourselves, build up self confidence, and then allows us more resources. So in this case, when we're providing experiential therapy that allows students to succeed, which I've seen so many times, that is so cool for me, students who are like, I can't do well at much, and in fact, I have had so many experiences tell me I'm not good enough.

    And when they finally realize, like, no, they have that positive experience, it just opens them up and broadens their horizons and helps build up their self confidence and character.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: And it's really kind of the foundation for what this is.

    Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely.

    Differences Between Talk Therapy and Experiential Therapy

    Tiffany: What is the difference between talk therapy and experiential therapy? If you're a first time listener and parents are listening and they have no idea what that is, what's the difference? And then we'll dive into what exactly is it.

    Jennifer: Sure, sure. I would say, I mean, my definition of the main difference is, is, like essentially just using one part of yourself versus the whole part of yourself.

    So in, in talk therapy, we are really relying a lot on our brain and a lot of people that's kind of part of the issue, right? Like I'll use myself as an example. I do not love in my own therapy to talk about my emotions, and so I intellectualize a lot of things, and that's kind of a common theme for people is that we don't like to talk about feelings, and so we intellectualize stuff.

    We can talk, talk, talk, talk. The more you talk, the more you intellectualize. And so your brain just kind of takes over, which again, helpful to some extent, you know, to gain insight, but in experiential therapy, in order to do, because you're doing, you have to use your whole body and your brain. And so that ultimately, like we talked about before, opens up more access to stored emotions, stored experiences that our brain is not necessarily willing to let go of.

    Tiffany: I think it's good to know, if you're listening to this podcast, you probably are familiar with this book, "The Body Keeps the Score."

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: It's a great book. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is kind of the grandfather of this idea, that PTSD is stored in the body and trauma is stored in and that it's not just stored. That's why I cognitively talking about trauma, it's Interesting. As a therapist, if you ever ask someone about, say you were in a car wreck and they saw someone bleed out or something really traumatic and you talk to them about it, a lot of times you'll get this kind, of like as if they're telling you about the weather.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: You know. They can tell you...

    Jennifer: It's very matter of fact.
    Yeah, they can tell you about it. But, that's their body's defense to protect them because it's not stored in cognition, it's stored in their senses and in their body. So if they were to hear a song on the radio in their car that went off right before the accident, they would have a PTSD trigger response and not realize like, well, why did I freak out? That was just a song I've heard it. Or a smell or a sound, or I was in a car accident and it was in the snow and so anytime for a long time, when there was rain or snow in this break skid, even just a little bit, my body would tense up.

    So yeah, not to derail us too much. I think it's important to note that there is research behind this, yeah, behind what that trauma and PTSD can be stored.

    So like you were saying, experiential therapy with talk therapy helps open that up and helps allow for further healing and insight that talk therapy just can't touch.

    Jennifer: Right. Absolutely.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    What is Experiential Therapy?

    Tiffany: So what is experiential therapy exactly?

    Jennifer: So I think honestly it can be anything, right? I mean, I know that's a really vague answer, but the reality is, I mean, we could take it... I'm going to use the word, we can take an experience and sort of make it therapeutic. It's ultimately, what's different is that it, we're usually doing something, right? So we're usually doing something.

    And so if I think back to, I had an experience when I was a younger person where I did a group for myself and we did at the end, and I'm already getting anxious talking about this because it was a really anxious part for me of that experience, but we did a low ropes course. And so that was, you know, that was experiential in nature. So it was kind of this capstone on our therapeutic experience was doing this ropes course and kind of, you know, ultimately we'd already gone through this therapeutic experience, but it was our ability now to see like what change had occurred for us.

    So an example, yeah, is a ropes course, lots of people do ropes courses, right? They do them for fun. They do them for therapeutic experiences, but it provides an opportunity for people to kind of have an uncomfortable experience, essentially. So it really can be anything, as long as you're doing something, I think that's the key.

    Tiffany: And then gaining therapeutic insight and...

    Jennifer: Correct.

    Tiffany: And value from that. So it's not just, I go out hiking, right? You know, it's having, you can actually have your own experiential therapy experiences, which I actually started providing for myself as a therapist, once I realized I had maxed out on talk therapy.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: And then going back and processing it with your therapist.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: And actually, that's my favorite kind of therapy work, I think, with clients, is when they come into my office and say, Tiffany, I had this cool experience, let me tell you all about it, and what I realized and had this insight and learned from it. That's experiential therapy.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: Right?

    Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely.

    Tiffany: And a lot of the work and change happens outside of the office anyways, with talk therapy, so.

    Jennifer: Right. Yeah. And I would add to just thinking about our program here, some of our therapists will actually not do therapy in the office. So they're individual. Some of the students, individual sessions are, they're going outside, they're collecting rocks, they're taking walks, they're, you know, they're using, we have dogs here, so they're using the dog in the therapeutic experience. So, kind of like that's even in a small snippet of an experiential opportunity, right, is to go take a walk with a kid. Very simple. You're getting something else out of it. One of the things about walking is it's bilateral stimulation and so it actually activates the brain and the body more. And so we, we end up getting out of our offices a lot, which is super helpful when you're working with teenagers.

    Tiffany: One of my favorite sessions I had with a teenager I worked with is, he often would over intellectualize and talk himself in circles. So one day, and he was a runner, but he hated running even though he's really good at it. So one day I brought my running shoes and said we're gonna go for a run around the campus and in fact, if you beat me on this run, you know, I'll... I had some privilege at the end that you could have. And that was one of my best sessions I ever had with one of my kids.

    Another one, I'll just give two more examples. I had a kid who was autism spectrum disorder, really struggled to focus, took him out, put him on the swing set. It was, again, one of the most focused, best sessions I ever had because again, that movement just changed our session.

    And then the last one I brought my dog into this girl who... well, she didn't hate me, but she gave off the vibe that, you know, I was the worst thing in the world and she would not talk to me. My big 90 pound dog came in, sat on her. It was like word vomit.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: I couldn't get her to stop talking.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: You know, so there are again these things to do in our sessions, they don't have to be big, grand go on a ropes course.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: They can be these little things that you were talking about.

    Jennifer: Yeah. I think we want to disrupt patterns, right? And so if there's a pattern that is like, even if it's a comfortable pattern of like, hey, therapy is going pretty well. We talk really, you know, it's like, yeah, we're talking, but at that, those, anything that sort of disrupts that, like I think is going to create an experiential therapeutic opportunity.

    Tiffany: Yeah. It's moving them to the next level, moving them up a notch in their journey of healing.

    Jennifer: Absolutely.

    Types of Experiential Therapy

    Tiffany: I want to point out the benefits of experiential therapy. While it's hard to find exact research on experiential therapy as a topic itself because it's so broad. Like you said, it could be anything.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Like when we talk about types, we've got, you know, equine therapy, and there's sand tray therapy, and play therapy, and there's art therapy, and you know, so there's a number of different kinds, and we'll dive into some that are offered here at Discovery Ranch South. But, I did find that, this one to be really interesting in Psychology Today that it suggests that, "some types of experiential therapy can provide at least some mental health benefits and may help people function better in everyday life, such as like music therapy has been linked to reduce stress, better sleep whereas other small studies have suggested that art therapy can help with individuals with personality disorders, eating disorders, PTSD."

    And so I think if you yeah are curious about the benefits of a specific type of experiential therapy, it's best to look up the research of that specific time, whether it be equine performing arts. I think there's going to be... you'll be able to have better benefit of finding specifically on what it is. But I think there's more research that could be done out there on this. Although I will say just personally, I've seen the power of it.

    Sorry, okay, so going back to what types of Experiential Therapies are offered at Discovery Ranch South that you guys here experience with your students.

    Equine Therapy

    Jennifer: Okay, so some of the some of the experiential aspects of our program are Equine-assisted Psychotherapy. So anything equine is we use horses essentially to do therapy with students, right? So we'll do individual sessions with them. We'll do group sessions with them. And I know that our equine director will speak to this more, but there is a really powerful relationship that occurs between the horse and the student, and so we actually we capitalize on that relationship to provide therapeutic breakthroughs for these students and for the families. And so we'll actually have families come and do equine assisted therapy when they're here visiting their kids as well.

    Adventure and Recreation Therapy

    Jennifer: And then we have our calf program, which is ultimately students, you know, taking care of and raising, bottle feeding a calf.

    Tiffany: That's so cool!

    Jennifer: It is. It is. Yes. And some, most of them, I would say the majority of them love it. Some of them do not love it, but that's actually part of it too, right? Is like learning to be willing to do something that you don't like. And so they get, there's a therapeutic insight that comes out of that.

    Cow Therapy

    Jennifer: And then we have the recreation program, which is essentially doing, you know, recreation-based activities, experiential activities that provide, you know, just like, I mean, ultimately providing an opportunity for a kid to learn how to rock climb. But also to provide them an opportunity to have a breakthrough to, you know, to push themselves, to be uncomfortable.

    I know for myself personally, when I think about becoming, I was actually years ago was certified as an Equine-assisted Psychotherapist and I'm afraid of horses. And so I have had lots of experiences where I've had to deal with my own anxiety around being around these big creatures that I think are way more powerful than me and do therapy with them.

    And so I have my, I have my own stuff around that, that I've gotten to work through. And I know I jumped from rock climbing, but it's cause I was thinking about an experience I had rock climbing, which provided that opportunity for me. I'm not afraid of heights, but I'm definitely afraid to climb up a rock. And so it, you know, I've had to push myself in the same way that these kids do. And I think that's one of the things that's cool about the experiential program that we have here is that, we don't ask the kids to do anything that we're not willing to do ourselves. And so they see us having a struggle sometimes, right, like some of the kids here know that I've had hard experience with horses from my childhood and so I had to work through those and I'm still cautious when I'm around them, and I'm still anxious when I'm around them, but I do it anyway. And so I'm having a similar experience to them as well.

    Performing Arts Therapy

    Jennifer: And then the performing arts program, just again, you know, provides an opportunity for some of our kids who, some come in, you know, ready to play an instrument. And some want to learn and some don't know what they want. And so every kid here, every student here has the opportunity to have some kind of foundational work in all three of those things mentioned. Well, performing arts, equine, and recreation, all the students have a calf. So, but at some point they choose an area that they're most interested in and I know that our directors of those programs, we'll talk more about that in future episodes.

    Tiffany: So I love that you guys are providing these various experiential type therapies and opportunities. And there's so many more that we could talk forever about that we're not even touching base on.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Sand Tray Therapy

    Tiffany: One of my favorites is sand tray. Yeah, I don't know if you guys have some therapists do that here?

    Jennifer: We do. We do, yeah.

    Tiffany: That could also be included. Sand tray is, for our listeners who have no idea what I'm talking about, cause I wouldn't have known before I was a therapist, is you have a sandbox and you provide an experience within the box. The sand itself is therapeutic. It's really grounding and stimulates different, you know, parts of your brain that for some kids, especially on the spectrum, really helps them feel safer in a session. And then you're providing different toys in it that can hold their own symbolism within, that they... oh, there's just so much more to it. I'm not even gonna dive in . I'm just trying to give an explanation. I'm like, how do I give a brief one on that.

    Jennifer: It's hard to do unless you experience it yourself.

    Tiffany: It's true. And that goes for a lot of this at times.

    Jennifer: I agree.

    That we're talking about. So we'll do our best to help our listeners learn what resources are out there.

    I had a point that I was gonna say on this. Oh, the great thing about providing these experiential opportunities for your students is a lot of times, students who come in and feel like they've maxed out and talk therapy, you know, feel like there's not always future. They feel discouraged. They don't always feel, they have low self esteem, ego strength, things like that. And so when you're providing these opportunities and something clicks and they're good at it and they overcome something hard, man, the, you know, neural pathways in your brain start opening up and they're releasing neurotransmitters that are firing off and it's giving them a chance to realize and overcome some of these core beliefs and maybe self negative narratives and find something that maybe they want to do in their future.

    Sorry, that was a long winded way of explaining that, but it's just such a cool thing to offer for these students who maybe feel stuck.

    Using Experiential Therapy To Get Unstuck

    Jennifer: Right, absolutely. Yeah, I think that what you're hitting on is what I've seen a lot over the years working with all teenagers in residential treatment and wilderness is that even though it maybe hasn't been labeled as treatment failure for them or within them, I think that that's the mindset that they carry, right?

    Is that they come here and they think, how is this going to be different? You know, I haven't been able, nothing else has worked. What makes this, you know, how's this going to work? And so I agree with you. I think that they start getting little, you know, opportunities and little snippets of success ultimately, even if it's just something small and they see that, Oh, maybe this is going to be different, so.

    Tiffany: Which is huge for, as we know, as therapists working with clients who don't have those moments, even those little wins start building a new neuropathway in their brain that creates a new script.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: That if they choose to, that they can develop even further.

    How Does Experiential Therapy Work?

    Tiffany: So in regards to just closing out our episode, let's end on how does experiential therapy work, which we've touched on, but I want to dive in a little deeper.

    So experiential therapy is offering an experience to our clients but it allows to take whatever they're talking about in talk therapy and making it more real, real time, hands on. That's the word I'm looking for. Tangible.

    Jennifer: Tangible, yeah.

    Tiffany: Yes. So hands on tangible, which I feel like through my own experience as a therapist, it helps them develop more insight and realize inner thoughts and feelings and it helps them to apply things. Does that make sense what I'm trying to say?

    Jennifer: Absolutely. Absolutely.

    Tiffany: Yeah. It like, I guess, what have you seen in regards to how experiential therapy has worked in your, in your line, in your history as a therapist?

    Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that's it. I think when you incorporate and activate all the senses, which is what you do in experiential therapy, right, because you're not just sitting talking, it again it opens up new insights. I think that's what happens. I think that, I mean you even mentioned that earlier and I've had my own personal experiences to where it's like, oh, that's totally new, right? Like that's a completely new insight. And I think a lot of these, the students that I've seen it, that's one of the coolest aspects of it is that they're not saying the same thing they've been saying for a year or two or whatever they've been just in talk therapy. Like it is like they're light bulb moments going off, right?

    Tiffany: That's what I was looking for. These light bulbs moments.

    Jennifer: Yeah. They're having like, and they're even like sometimes shocked, surprised, scared of them. They're like, whoa, what was that? Whoa. You know, they're like, Oh my gosh, am I going to say this right now?

    And so they'll have, I think they're just such like kind of, yeah, just like crisp new, new insights. And that in of itself is not only scary, which is good thing, right? Like it's scary, but it's also hope, it's hopeful. So I think they get a lot of hope out of experiential therapy, because there's an opportunity for, oh, like, I could actually make change. I have not felt like I could make change. And so now I do, because I just like, I surprised myself.

    Tiffany: I always like to say that growth doesn't happen in comfort. It happens when you are struggling and when you're challenged, that is where true growth comes from.

    Jennifer: Yeah.

    Tiffany: When we're comfortable and We know what's coming.

    Jennifer: Right.

    Tiffany: Then our brain just kind of takes a step back and hits the snooze button.

    Jennifer: Totally.

    Tiffany: But when we're faced with these challenges and have these like, aha, light bulb experiences, you are pushing and changing and allowing for further healing.

    Jennifer: Mm hmm. Yeah, absolutely.

    Success Stories With Experiential Therapy

    Tiffany: So, I would love to hear about some personal experiences that you've seen family, students benefit from working here at Discovery Ranch South with Experiential Therapy.

    Jennifer: Yeah. So many. I think one I, I'll hit on is because it's one that I've actually been involved with a lot over the years. So one of my and you'll probably relate to this, Tiffany, as a therapist, but one of my favorite modalities to use that's experiential in nature that would probably fit into, I guess you could use the performing arts aspect of it, but is to do family sculpting and so that is like, it's a movement, can be a movement based sculpture, but it could also be a kind of a static sculpture. And so it is, I have seen... I don't know that I've ever not done a powerful family sculpture with a family like…

    The Impact of Family Sculpting

    Tiffany: Can you explain to our listeners what that may even look like?

    Jennifer: Yeah, so family sculpture is ultimately when you have a family essentially you tell them to set up a scene of like, I'll just give an example of, Hey show us what how the ... so show us what your family dynamic looked like before, you know, Jane came to treatment.

    And so they'll all take a role and there's usually props involved as well. And so it's a snap. They physically use themselves...

    Tiffany: As like statues, right?

    Jennifer: As statues but they have space in the room. And so there's a lot of like, there could be, you know, someone's you know, standing on top of a couch to, to sort of like, you know, create this scene of like, I'm the dominating one and we do it where we have each family member kind of put someone in, you know, they sculpt the scene. So you have different opportunities for the families to sculpt the scene. And what it does is it provides insight from each family member to the other family members. And I have, every time I've done it I have seen, like just super powerful, right? Like, things that families did not know about how somebody in the family was experiencing the family dynamic. And so that's something, I mean, it's not something we use here all the time, but when we have opportunities to work when our families come to visit, a lot of our therapists will use family sculpture as an experiential modality to really kind of like, you know get unstuck. Like you said, you know, you've used the word stuck a couple of times and I have never seen a family, like, stay stuck in what they've been doing after doing a family sculpture.

    The Power of Experiential Therapy in Family Dynamics

    Tiffany: Well, it's one thing to say, Hey mom, you're really mean and authoritative and it hurts my feelings. And maybe mom's heard that over and over again from their kid or they, you know, a mom telling the kid like, Hey, I feel really like you don't care and you don't love me and you just break every boundary I try to set with you, right? But it's another thing to have them be in position and to play it out. And to see themselves in that role, that speaks volumes more than just saying it.

    Jennifer: Absolutely. Yeah. It's just, it's kind of more, it's undeniable at that point, right? Like it's, you, you add another sense to it like you said. I mean, and the more we use all of our senses, our whole body, we are going to create more insight.

    Tiffany: I love this example of family sculpting. Again, for our listeners, if you are having a hard time imagining it , it's more powerful experiencing it. And that's a lot of times what experiential therapy is, is you have to be there and you have to experience it, and we can talk forever about it. But if you are really interested as a listener to learn more about this, please keep listening. We've got some episodes coming up that I think we can really dive in deeper to help you gain further insight and understanding and how it can be a resource for your personal whether it's, teenager that you're listening for, some family friend or someone you love who, who needs further help and talk therapy just isn't working.


    Tiffany: Jen, thank you so much for coming on this episode to talk to us about what other options are there for parents who have reached max benefits with talk therapy.

    In the next episode, I'm excited to be talking about and dive deeper into equine therapy in the CAF program here at Discovery Ranch South with your equine director and associate.

    Jennifer: Clinical director.

    Tiffany: Clinical director. That'll be awesome. Yeah, so stay tuned. We've got a lot of great things to Talk about and to go over and do you have anything else you want to add before we end?

    Jennifer: No, just thanks. Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.

    Tiffany: Thank you again. And actually for our listeners, we're going to be, our last episode is going to be with Jen diving further deeper into, if you, you know, have reached all your limitations of therapy and need to start looking for residential treatment, what does that look like and how do you know?
    So she'll be there. Thank you again.