If head knowledge and figuring things out were enough to resolve emotional problems, many counselors would be out of business. The human brain is so intelligent that, if thinking and knowing alone could create change, we would all be living comfortable and emotionally healthy lives. Instead, the complexity of our brains is part of what keeps us stuck in codependent patterns. When all we gain is head knowledge, we can manipulate, play mind games, and avoid the truth for a long time. For many, it means avoiding the truth their whole lives.
Intuitive experiential therapy is the process of helping people connect with feelings they hide from themselves but that are present for others to see. Letting people have their core feelings recognized and validated helps them embrace and feel their true feelings, which results in changes in their behavior. Rather than helping people learn a new pattern of behavior, it helps them let go of the need that has been filled by the old pattern of behavior. When our trauma child/insular cortex tries to stifle and hide our feelings, we end up with feelings, perceptions of the world, and interactions with other people that are distorted. Accessing our true, core feelings that have been hidden resets these distorted perceptions and feelings, allowing our true selves to emerge.
Most counseling theories connect with the conscious or cerebral part of the brain. Deep, lasting change, however, requires tapping into feelings and the whole brain. Experiential therapy connects with both the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain, which is what allows us to access core issues. This is what sets experiential and intuitive experiential therapy apart from other approaches.
Experiential therapy is any therapy that goes beyond talk therapy, allowing people to connect with their feelings and bodies. Experiential therapy allows people to reenact significant emotional experiences, then to embrace and release the feelings tied to those experiences. Experiential techniques include, but are not limited to: play therapy, art therapy, music therapy, journaling, meditation, storytelling, sand tray therapy, psychodrama, sculpting, and intuitive experiential therapy. All these are designed to circumvent people’s defense mechanisms and get past the emotional walls we all create.
Intuitive experiential therapy uses tools and techniques from different theories without being attached to or limited by any particular one. The goal is to help clients access their emotional truth and story to feel their deep feelings in order to connect with their true selves. Because our body language never lies, part of the process is feeding back to clients what their bodies are saying that they do not see. The work is always tailored to the needs of a given client at a given moment. The counselor’s role is to follow the client and go where the work leads, rather than to make assumptions about what the client needs or direct the work toward a particular outcome. The process is always adapted to fit the client, rather than the client being pushed to fit a predetermined process. It is fluid and flexible, with the counselor assessing what clients need based on the cues they present.
Because intuitive experiential therapy focuses on body language, much of the work is non-verbal. Using a lot of words keeps the cerebral cortex engaged, which just helps people continue to hide their feelings. The goal with intuitive experiential work is to use movement, visuals, and other techniques that bypass the words and access the emotions in the subconscious part of the brain. This is where the emotional trauma is stored and where the healing takes place.
One of the responsibilities of the counselor facilitating experiential or intuitive experiential work is to make sure clients don’t harm themselves, others, or anything of importance. People may hit objects as a way of discharging emotions, especially anger, but they never hit other people and they never hit anything in ways that might hurt others or themselves. Participants are encouraged to take care of themselves by speaking up if, for example, a particular exercise causes physical discomfort or fear. When group members are asked to play roles in other participants’ work, they are always free to say no. And anyone who feels overwhelmed or unsafe can stop a particular piece of work—their own or someone else’s—at any time. For many people, this is the first time they have been given permission to truly feel safe or have an emotional voice around their needs. They are used to saying “yes” all the time, even when inside their bodies are saying “no.”
Part of the “intuitive” aspect of this work is the counselor sensing in his or her body what is going on with clients physically. You might say that the counselor’s body “hears” what the client’s body is saying. There’s nothing mysterious or ethereal about this. Instead, it is based on close observation of clients’ body language and other cues. All of us pick up some of this kind of information about other people every day, usually without realizing it. The only difference here is that the counselor is paying close attention, consciously observing and processing the client’s body language. This is one more reason why it is so essential for counselors doing this kind of therapy to have done their own emotional work. It allows them to be open to the messages sent by clients’ body language, without confusing or misreading those messages because of their own unresolved emotions.
Intuitive experiential therapy facilitates deep emotional shifts. When found, these crucial shifts can take place quickly, and they are the foundation for significant, lasting change.