Challenging Experience: An Experiential Approach to the Treatment of Serious Offenders

ISBN: 978-1-885473-52-3
SIZE: 9.5 x 8.5
PRICE $27.95

“Drama, art, and movement provide clients who have only limited powers of verbal expression with some new ways to tell their stories as well as fresh strategies to investigate themselves.”

People attend plays for catharsis and vicarious experience, to feel through performance without harming self or others.  The same principle applies to drama therapy—role-play ignites “in-the-moment” responses that simulate real-life behavior and emotion for examination and contemplation in a safe, therapeutic environment.  Challenging Experience presents exercises written for treatment providers who work with adult or adolescent sexual abusers and violent offenders.

A variety of exercises range from warm-ups to low- and high-intensity activities, and include calming and cooling exercises as well.  The authors focus on using the proper exercise for the client’s stage in treatment and emotional ability to participate.  Information accompanies each exercise regarding the number of clients and amount of time needed to implement.


“Having seen and benefited from the results of these unique efforts, I was amazed to see how simple these exercises seem on paper. The elements are simple but the results complex and indicative of the depth of the experience and commitment of the authors. I expect that it will become THE guidebook for creative arts therapists and others involved in therapeutic efforts.”
Travis Merrell, MA, RDT

“The exercises themselves, particularly in the warm-up and low-intensity categories, could be used by any teacher for any number of goals. The format of the book makes the exercises accessible and easily understood. The identification of learning styles is particularly useful for a teacher who is trying to accommodate a variety of learners in his or her class. Experiencing life lessons through dramatic work generates confidence, self-awareness, and perhaps most importantly, empathy.”
Alison Hunter, Dramatic Arts and Outdoor Education Teacher

“I have worked with John Bergman for the past 13 years and have found his approach to drama therapy to be the single most valuable tool in my bag of therapeutic instruments. The men our treatment program fully agreed with this. This book will be invaluable to both the beginning and the advanced practitioner. One can now put together a session in a matter of minutes.”
Barbara K Schwartz, PhD, New England Forensic Associates, Former Clinical Director of the Massachusetts Treatment Center

“Experiential therapy, by its mere essence, is difficult to explain. John and Saul have done an excellent job of breaking down and putting into words and categories an ACTION based Therapy. What a wonderful reference guide, especially for those new to experiential therapy.”
Sylke M. Knopp, MA, LMFT

“This excellent resource, written by two of the most renowned experts in the use of dramatherapy with offenders, offers solid, concise, “how-to” information that will serve as an essential guide for therapists treating criminal offenders. Most offender therapists have worked with clients who appear “stuck” in their treatment, have difficulty identifying and expressing emotions, or who rely on over-intellectualization to avoid real experiences. I believe this book is of exceptional value to anyone wishing to reach those clients and help them achieve maximum benefit from the behavioral change work being done in treatment programs.”
Anita Schlank, PhD, LP, Clinical Director, Minnesota Sex Offender Program

“The most important piece to the book was the emphasis on the relationship between the client and the therapist. This is often not prefaced in experiential or drama therapy. I would recommend this book to therapist who are not afraid to get out of their seats and experience the treatment with their clients.”
Cindy Tyo, LISW, Lead Therapist, Sexually Aggressive Youth Program

Excerpt from the Book

Therapy Goals, The Long Description

Our task was how to make a simple way for you to get the right exercises for the right clients at the right time in therapy. We were worried about new clients, for instance, doing experiential exercises that were just too complex for them. We worried just as much that more skilled clients would have too simple exercises and not be challenged at the level of insight that they might be expected to have. So once we created the exercises for each session phase we graded them in difficulty and matched the exercises to the levels of insight that we thought gradually advancing clients should show. As we did this task it led us to the creation and understanding of the Therapy Goals.
We worked out the problem based on our own experiences with men in therapy. We tried to look at what we saw and where we tried to guide clients to end up. We ignored the nuts and bolts of cycle work or relapse prevention and instead focused on what we hoped the sessions would cumulatively achieve. We looked at what was the base line in therapy for what clients had to be able to do to move up a level of skill and insight. We looked at the meta goals for different therapy groups that we had worked in. From these observations we created these therapy phases and their goals.
For a client to move on in therapy:

1) The client must be able to listen in to what he actually experiences and report it back. If he cannot hear his own body or his own mind, then he cannot change anything in a conscious way.
We call the goal of this phase of therapy OPENING UP TO THE MIND.

2) The client must be able to remember some of what he has experienced in the past and in the recent past. He has to be able to report it and analyze it. If he can’t remember, especially the way his mind and body works when he does dangerous things, he can’t consciously pinpoint what to change.
We call the goal of this phase of therapy REMEMBERING.
This goal can be arduous. It means remembering what you have done to people, recently and long ago.

3) Once the client can remember and analyze that memory, he can move to the next objective in therapy–to remember what he has done and experienced, how it felt to him and potentially to others around him. All that must be processed and remembered. If he can begin to feel what others may have felt at his hands, he may well not want to hurt others like that. It is at least a way of warning himself.
We call the goal of this phase of therapy REMEMBERING AND FEELING.

4) Once the client has begun to sense his own feelings and feel what he has done to others, he is ready to think about what others mean to him. In many clients there is a deep and abiding distrust of people. It has come from the past and lives on in the present. It means, in practice, a virtual inability to attach, to connect, to be truly intimate with people. But if he cannot attach, he might not be able to practice feeling, learning, and changing. He is at risk.
The objective of this phase of therapy we call ATTACHMENT. (See Bowlby (1988) and Siegel (1999) on Attachment Disorder.)

5) Once the client practices attachment, that process should be lead to a new phase of therapy– considering what he really wants life to give him–i.e. connectedness, meaning, purposeful independence. It is a crucial phase of therapy, since it gives meaning to the why of change. If he cannot find purpose in his life, he may find change very hard to contemplate.
We call the goal of this phase of therapy HUMAN NEEDS.

6) The client must try to give up the old that he remembers and feels so vividly and to practice brand new ways of connecting and feeling. In prison jargon here is where he has to “walk the talk.” Here he has to experience what it means to do these new ways of being–sexually controlled or nonviolent, assertive rather than aggressive, peace-minded, etc. If he cannot practice and do the new, the previous therapy phase objectives are almost without value.
We call the goal of this phase of therapy CHANGING.

7) The client practices his interventions and relapse prevention mechanisms and expands his new world of connectedness. He practices not letting control and life slip from his grasp. He tries to remain the master of all the objectives learned from the previous therapy phases.
We call the goal of this phase of therapy MAINTAINING AND MOVING.

Each one of these Therapy Goals is a phase of therapeutic change. The exercises promote, support and stimulate. They reflect each Therapy Goal and push clients on to the next.
Each therapy phase has its own Session Exercises. The exercises in Warm Ups for clients in the Remembering phase are different from those for clients in the Remembering and Feeling phase. The level of insight needed is so much different. You should not jump your clients past any of these phases. (But if you are skilled with this work, you will know how to titrate the strength of these exercises to suit all types of clients.)

Important: There are many exercises in each set of session phase exercises for each therapy phase. You have a choice. You should read the Aims for each of the exercises in that section and then make your selection. Do also review the way exercises are formatted in this book (see p. 25).

The right exercise for the right client at the right time.

Table of Contents

Is This for You? Questions and Answers
Experiential Therapy and Role Play
The Experienced Short Cut
Our Therapy Goals
Sessions Phases and Choosing Exercises for Them
Using the Session Planner
The Session Designer
Warm Up Exercises
Low Intensity Exercises
High Intensity Exercises
Calming & Cooling (Closure) Exercises
Suggested Reading List
Sources for Art Related Work
Topical Index
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