Transformative Experiences in and Outside of Therapy

I want to invite you to close your eyes and think about the last experience you had that was truly transformational. Take a few moments. What words come to mind? What feelings come up? When I reflect on my travels after I graduated from college, it was transformational. It was life changing. My adventures opened my eyes, changed my perspective, challenged me, and ultimately changed me. I can say the same about relationships I’ve had, my master’s program, and working as a counselor.

As a counselor, I want my clients to experience transformational counseling and have transformative experiences outside of therapy, too.

A transformational experience involves seeing and experiencing the world in a new, and meaningful way. According to Pugh (2011), experiences are transformational because a person’s perception of the world changes, and as a result a person’s relationship with the world changes, too. People are able to realize newfound appreciation for the parts of the world that were once outside their experience.

You might be thinking to yourself, or maybe asking out loud, how do I experience these moments? How do I do the thing? Some of these experiences are happenstance – they aren’t necessarily sought out, but rather occur spontaneously, although more often than not, in relationship with others. Often, in therapy, a transformative experience can often be a result of a corrective emotional experience. Have you ever had a moment where you left a session and thought to yourself, wow, I wish I could do that with other people in my life?

Corrective emotional experiences are transformative experiences because they involve overcoming emotional conflicts within the therapeutic relationship. The definition of a corrective emotional experience highlighted by Bridges (2006) parallels the definition of a transformative experience: reexperiencing old, unsettled conflicts with new endings – or experiencing something you experienced before but seeing it in a new way.

These experiences are possible with other people in your life, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t easy for a variety of reasons. First, we don’t have these types of conversations with people on the regular. It’s not the norm. Second, it takes a lot of investment and commitment to that relationship. Finally, it’s risky and it’s scary because these conversations require some degree of vulnerability. These transformative experiences must be sought out.

Other transformative experiences can be sought out, too. Often any opportunity to expand your knowledge, learn something new, or challenge yourself has the potential to be transformative. I believe taking those opportunities requires curiosity, open-mindedness, and courage on your end. If you believe you’re ready, or perhaps you want to try, here are some questions to ask yourself that may give you some direction on how to cultivate these experiences in your life:

What is something I’ve always wanted to try, but it seems something has always gotten in the way?

Who is someone I want to get closer to, and how can I take the first step in doing so?

Is there a conversation I’ve longed to have, but haven’t?

Where is one place I’d like to go?

What is something I’d like to learn more about?

What are some books or movies that I’ve found impacted me? How so?

Thanks for reading!

Bri Dixon


Bridges, M. R. (2006). Activating the corrective emotional experience. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(5), 551-568.

Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience. An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121.