Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 560–568 | Cite as

Experiential Activities in Family Therapy: Perceptions of Caregivers and Youth

  • Sanna J. Thompson
  • Kimberly Bender
  • Jodi Berger Cardoso
  • Patrick M. Flynn
Original Paper


Novel and creative therapeutic modalities have been developed in an effort to increase motivation in family therapy for adolescents and families. Many of these approaches incorporate experiential activities or “family play”, which provides a supplemental approach to traditional talk therapy. Incorporating experiential activities into family therapy sessions has been shown to increase engagement and enhance participation in therapy. Therefore, to understand how families view experiential activities within family therapy, we interviewed nineteen adolescents (age 12–17) and their parents/caregivers who were receiving family therapy augmented with experiential activities. We asked a series of open-ended questions to understand the families’ experiences concerning how they initially felt about participating in family therapy and their perceptions of the experiential activities. The activities involved experiential interactions and skill-building exercises that elicited active participation from all family members and encouraged further discussions. Topics of these activities focused on problem areas the family had identified, such as anger management, problem-solving, improving communication, substance use, expressing feelings, coping, etc. Results showed that most caregivers and youth found the experiential activities helpful in creating positive family interactions and developing communication skills. Caregivers and adolescents noted that the activities increased their desire to participate in family therapy sessions and they were more motivated to engage in the treatment process. Clinicians using the methods discussed in this intervention should be aware of the study’s limitations. Implications for clinical practice and research are discussed.


Experiential treatment methods Family-based treatment Family therapy High-risk youth Treatment engagement 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sanna J. Thompson
    • 1
  • Kimberly Bender
    • 2
  • Jodi Berger Cardoso
    • 1
  • Patrick M. Flynn
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.School of Social WorkUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Behavioral ResearchTexas Christian UniversityFort WorthUSA

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