Experiential Therapy and How It Speeds Up Transformation & Healing with Marla Berger

Sometimes it is the experiences that matter most. For Marla Berger, a tough loss in her teens stayed with her almost a decade before it led her down her journey of pursuing a career in mental health. Through experiential therapy, she serves her clients through their personal struggles by giving them the opportunity to “practice” taking action instead of traditional talk therapy. These experiences utilize art, nature, and even horses. Marla, the founder of Berger Counseling Services, joins us in this week’s episode of Lift U Up: Inspiring Health Stories.

The Important of Experience

Residing in South Florida, Marla Berger grew up loving art and horses, but would have never imagined the role they both play in her career today. In her youth, she was never inspired to incorporate her interests into a career. At the age of 16, Marla unfortunately lost a friend to suicide. This tragic experience opened Marla’s eyes to the perils of mental illness and the importance of therapy. While not an immediate light-bulb moment, these ideas sat with Marla and after some research she realized something pulling her towards experiential therapy. She went on to study art therapy, receiving her Bachelor’s Degree from University of Florida and her Masters Degree in Art Therapy from University of Louisville. While studying, she was introduced to therapy with horses, but saw something missing. She began using horses in her own therapy sessions and became Advanced Certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. In 2009, she opened Berger Counseling Services to bring experiential therapy to clients of her own. 

Then Vs Now

Since Marla has been in the mental health field since the 90’s, she had a lot to reflect on about the different view our society had on mental health then vs. now. The bright side is that today there is much less stigma and much more conversation surrounding mental health. However, with social media there is sometimes a lack of information when discussing mental health diagnosis. As social media is more mindless than mindful, Marla is seeing the impact it is making, especially on our younger generation. When we live in a world with so much going on, it is more important now than ever to support our kids with tools (just like what Marla provides through her therapy) for coping. 

Bringing Therapy to Life

For Marla, the biggest benefit of bringing experiences to therapy is to practice coping mechanisms in real time, during real experiences. Her therapy sessions create moments of stress, even if her clients don’t realize it at the time. For an art project, there might be a pressure to be “perfect” or feeling unsure of where to start. These feelings are not different from the anxiety they are feeling out in the world, and working through the sessions creates muscle memory for coping out in the world. Marla brags that as much as she loves her clients, she loves for their relationship to move quickly. Her therapy is meaningful, purposeful, and impactful.

What else can you expect in this episode?

  • Marla’s personal story about losing her friend in her teens.
  • What using horses in a therapy session looks like for Marla. 
  • An example of a grounding strategy Marla uses with her clients in nature. 
  • How Covid forced some of us to re-learn how to challenge our stress from being out in the world. 
  • How to know if experiential therapy is right for you.
  • Marla’s actionable tip for showing up as her best self. 

Where to find Marla Berger: