If you have difficulty expressing or identifying your feelings, you aren’t alone. Traditional therapy can be intimidating for this very reason. Fortunately, it is possible to improve your well-being with the help of a therapist by doing as well as talking.

When most people think of therapy, talk therapy comes to mind first. In traditional talk therapy, a client and therapist engage in a direct conversation, and the therapist listens and offers insights to help create positive change.

In contrast, experiential therapy uses some type of external tool or activity to explore feelings and traumas instead of a conversation. There are a wide variety of activities and other interventions that can be used to work through a client’s perceptions of what they are experiencing in order to learn more about themselves and their deeper feelings. No matter the format, experiential therapy is client-centered, meaning that the method needs to appeal to the client and make them feel comfortable.

Some experiential methods are immersive and also focus on connection with others, like group therapy. Other options, such as music therapy, are more hands-on and active. One example is psychodrama experiential therapy, in which a client can act out a past life event, helping them process any shame or anger related to the memory that they may have avoided processing. Another example is somatic experiencing therapy, which releases trauma from the body by focusing the client’s attention on physical sensations and any related emotions. Other types of experiential therapy include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), dance therapy, equine-assisted therapy, and more.

Experiential therapy is based on the idea that perception determines behavior and follows a “bottom-up” approach to therapy. The terms “top-down” and “bottom-up” refer to which region of the brain a therapeutic approach targets first. The upper brain, where the prefrontal cortex is located, is responsible for logic and self-control. Higher level emotions, thinking, and speaking are also handled in the upper brain. Meanwhile, the lower brain, where the amygdala and brain stem are located, is the more primitive part of the brain. Basic functioning and the body’s natural responses are handled there.

A top-down therapeutic approach targets the upper brain first, focusing on speaking and the client’s current thoughts and feelings. Traditional talk therapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) are two examples that take this approach.

Therapists that subscribe to a bottom-up approach believe that the upper brain can temporarily shut down while experiencing trauma in order for the lower brain, where trauma is stored, to take over and focus solely on surviving. A bottom-up approach follows the idea that a person’s thoughts and behaviors can’t be changed without first understanding what is triggering those thoughts and how the body is connected. Once there is a safe place for the client to explore their feelings, then the therapist can start to branch out on the style of approach to include other methods of therapy, like talk therapy.

Therapists at D2 Counseling are trained in a multitude of therapy techniques and take a holistic and practical approach to healing. At D2, clients have the option to work with counselors specifically trained in effective experiential therapy methods, including somatic experiencing therapy and EMDR. If you struggle to open up during traditional therapy methods, there is still a path forward for you. D2 Counseling is ready today to guide you in overcoming trauma, gaining confidence, and processing your emotions.