The Complete Social Worker
Guide to Using the Internet in Social Work
Experiential Practice in Social Work .

Developed by Dr. Christian M. Itin, MSW

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This site is for all social workers and other health and mental health professionals interested in various forms of experiential work. There is a strong focus here on the "therapy" side of the experiential work. This is done because it represents the level of practice which requires the most skill or training and should help illustrate to social workers the level of training that should be strived for if holds oneself out as doing an experiential therapy. However it should be appreciated that social workers may engage in these as therapeutic rather then therapy and/or in a less clinical context. All experiential practices can be conducted with a focus on recreation (done for personal pleasure or fun), education (done for learning), development (change in behavior), or therapy (change in meta behavior). The intent (purpose) of the social worker is the primary determinant of the focus (intent). This is to say that doing art or music with a client does not mean one is doing art therapy, nor should it. All experiential practices can and should be used for various purposes.

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Educating Yourself About Experiential Practice

It has been said that all learning is experiential and there is truth to this. However, some forms of working with people use and create concrete positive and growth producing experiences more fully then others. Experiential forms of work have in common the central element of creating experience with which client systems can interact with and in. Much of the material on this page will refer to experiential therapy. It must be understood that some of the work presented on this site may use the term therapy very loosely. Much of the material might better be classified as therapeutic, some would be best classified as developmental, and some educational. Since not all social workers are therapists or do therapy it is important to realize that much of this material will be relevant to social workers who do community development, administration (staff training/team building), education or prevention, or any number of any other areas of practice.

One of the things you will find is that a number of different terms are used to describe the areas under experiential work. There is a lack of clarity in language from the meaning of "therapy" to the meaning of specific forms of work. This site is one of the few to attempt to organize all experiential forms of work. You will find sites that organize expressive therapies or various forms of creative therapies; but I was unable to find any that organized them all. One hope is that this site will help us communicate inter or trans-disciplinary within experiential practice. Furthermore, most of the sites are not owned or run by social workers, so that this further facilitates a cross discipline perspective.

You might want to get some general information on experiential learning by going to the theory of experiential learning page. You may also want to explore the philosophy of experiential education page. I make a clear distinction between experiential learning and experiential education, the latter a philosophy that informs the transactional process between students and teachers (or clients and therapists) the former is a method of learning.

Membership Organizations

You can also get more information from the two main associations for experiential learning. The Association for Experiential Education is the oldest association with its roots in adventure-based education. The National Association for Experiential Education is primarily rooted in service learning and out of classroom education at a higher education level.

There are also membership organizations for most of the major areas outlined here. Here are some of the primary ones:

Expressive Therapy Association
The National Expressive Therapy Association
American Art Therapy Association
Poetry Therapy Association
National Association of Drama Therapy
British Drama Therapy Association
National Coalition of Arts Therapies
American Dance Therapy Association
Japan Dance Therapy Association
British Society for Music Therapy
Canadian Association for Music Therapy
Massage Association of Australia
American Massage Therapy Association
Massage Therapists Association of British Columbia (MTABC)
Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals
International Massage Association
National Coalition for Arts Therapies Association
Therapeutic Recreation Association
Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group (TAPG)
The National Association of Therapeutic Wilderness Camps
American Horticultural Therapy Association []
American Occupational Therapy Association

About the Topics

Experiential Therapy This term is used here as a general expression of therapy that involves action on the part of the therapist and the client. Related terms include action and most of the expressive therapies. The term experiential has been used to refer to Rogerian and Gestalt therapies and other transactive therapies. However this is only a small part of what is known as experiential therapy.

Expressive Therapies this is the largest subset of experiential therapies and includes the sub-topics of Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, Psychodrama/Drama Therapy, Narrative, Writing, Biblio, and Poetry Therapy, Photo Therapy. Each of these are sperate (having their own professional associations) and they are interrelated.

Mind/Body Therapies is an other large category including meditation, massage, and various forms of martial arts. These activities are often used as therapeutic adjuncts rather then primary therapy. Many of these therapies are not specifically psychotherapy

Activity Therapy
Many different activities may be used as therapy some of the specific and most widely used ones are presented here.

Recreational Therapy Another large professional discipline that primarily involves leisure and fun as a therapeutic medium. Most often offered as an adjunctive service in hospital settings.

Play Therapy this area has a long history with children but has been growing as an area of work with adolescents and adults.

Adventure Therapy One of the more recent areas of practice, usually involves the use of risk, challenge, and unfamiliar circumstance to explore metaphorically the issues in a clients life. May include wilderness expeditions.

Animal Assisted Therapy An area of practice that is growing in popularity and is supported by some good research. Involves both the use of large and small animals.

Horticultural Therapy Using plants and the process of gardening as both a task based activity and a metaphor for change and growth.

Occupational Therapy A large professional discipline in it's own right. Often occupational therapy is directed at large and small motor skill development. However it also refers to all work that is directed at career or life functioning.

Psychodrama & Drama


Mind-Body/ Meditation /Massage


Mind Body



Martial arts therapy offers alternatives - 9/25/97, article in Detroit news on the use of martial arts as a therapy.

  • National Coalition for Arts Therapies Association, formal linkage between the major music, dance, drama, art, psychodrama, and poetry therapy associations.
  • Expressive Therapy Concepts, large site dedicated to music, drama, art, poetry, and dance therapies. Has links to articles and other resources.
  • Nasco International, commercial educational supplier that has some free activities and catalogues of material available regarding using activities in therapy.
  • Activity Therapy - Hobbies do more than just pass time, Mayo Clinic provides some brief information on activity-based therapies.
  • Activities Therapy, book by Anne Cronin Mosey from an occupational therapy perspective gives some theoretical background.
  • NANDA TO NIC LINKAGES - A nursing page with links to a nursing perspective on activity.

    Activities/Games/Initiatives and Related Resources



    Adventure Therapy

    Important Note: The inclusion of programs on this page does not constitute any endorsement of the programs, nor does it mean that the programs may actually practice good adventure therapy. Their inclusion here simply means that they have advertised themselves on the web as using adventure therapy (they came up on searches of the web using AT or ABC).

    Animal Assisted





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    This page is Administered by:
    Christian M. Itin, MSW, PhD (
    Please bring to my attention any updates and additions to existing sites referenced here. New sites or resources on this page's topic. Or bad links you may find.
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