I’m still not sure where the past twenty years have gone to and how they have seemingly disappeared so quickly. I swear it was only yesterday I was sitting for my exit interview, diploma in hand, ready to fix a broken world.
I remember distinctly as the Dean asked me to explain my preferred theoretical model for counselling. Such an obvious answer. Of course, it had to be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It was so logical, and simple, and of course, we all love those beautiful little words, “evidence based.” We just need to take control of our thoughts and like magic, our feelings will fall in line.
Needless to say, the first time I heard the term “experiential therapy” I was skeptical. It brought up memories of a modern dance class I had attempted in college and visions of students moving across the floor at the direction of the teacher, “embracing the movement of an orange,” whatever that was supposed to mean.
It wasn’t until years later, after I had fallen in love with Adventure Therapy, Equine/Animal-Assisted Therapy, EMDR, and the Expressive Arts, and witnessed the effectiveness of it first-hand, that a dear friend was kind enough to explain to me, “Kath… what you do, IS experiential therapy at its finest.” You could have knocked me over with a feather.
How could this be? I was still using all my CBT and DBT protocols! I had just figured out how to integrate them into real life experiences. Is that really what “experiential” meant all along? Why had I thought it involved some surreal fairyland of imagination? So, I set out to examine the evidence for myself.
Turns out, research supports what, to me, was painfully obvious. Experience really IS the best teacher. Sadly, sometimes the things we learn in life, especially in “the school of hard knocks” are not necessarily the lessons we would wish for anyone to learn. At least not in person. Hence the need for trauma therapy. Big T, little t… trauma is trauma no matter which way you slice it. I’m not saying there aren’t nuances but bottom line is, those traumatic experiences have a way of getting stuck in our brains. And what’s worse, they really wreak havoc with our processing system. It’s like they are saying, “Hey, notice me! I’m important! Don’t forget!” Which is the one thing we’d all really like to do. Forget those awful memories.
So now guess what science has proven is the most effective way of dealing with those pesky hard experiences and “life lessons.” You got it. New experiences! I suppose that just makes sense. It was experience that wired our brains in the first place, and it is experience that re-wires our brains so we can heal. Depression, anxiety, PTSD…all based in a lifetime of experiences.
Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on my cognitive behavioral roots. I guess you could say I’ve just branched out a little.
More on the science behind healing your brain next time. It’s actually pretty fascinating!
Stay tuned for Part 2