The therapist will see you now - hiking or on a surfboard

The therapist will see you now – hiking or on a surfboard

One Wednesday morning, nearly a dozen women gathered on the beach in Santa Monica.

Their routine was consistent: they did an anchor drill and focused on the present moment before donning their wetsuits and grabbing surfboards, heading into the water to take on whatever the ocean brought to them. that day.

“The water is different every week and you are different every week,” said Elizabeth Sale, one of the participants in Surf Sister Sessions, a surf therapy program run by Groundswell Community Project. “No matter what was going on in my job, I could show up, I could share and feel the kind of common connective tissue.”

Participants in the surf therapy program stand on the sand.

The Surf Sister Sessions explore themes such as mindfulness, gratitude, self-identity and recovery from trauma.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Women in wetsuits walk in the shallow waters of the ocean.  One carries a yellow surfboard.

After a surf therapy session, participants walk towards the shore.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Led by a licensed therapist and surf therapy facilitator, surf sessions are just one of many therapy programs that now combine talk therapy with physical activities to help people process. Across the country, you can find everything from dog-walking therapy to horticultural therapy to improv therapy.

The idea that our bodies can reflect and store emotions and trauma isn’t new – psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk’s 2014 book “The Body Keeps the Score” spent years at the top of the best-seller list. New York Times sellers, and it has long been believed that hip-opening exercises can help release emotions and trauma. But these spaces that merge therapeutic practices with physical activity are constantly expanding, reaching new clients who might find sitting face-to-face in a formal office daunting or who want to explore how movement can prompt them to process emotions. differently.

Daniel Gaines, a Los Feliz-based therapist, began offering walking sessions after the pandemic turmoil set in.

“When I first started doing virtual sessions, I enjoyed it, but at the same time it was a little stuffy,” Gaines said. “I was just like, ‘You know what? There’s a nice trail right down the street. Let me try that.

A man in shorts and a hiking shirt stands outdoors and holds a green water bottle

Daniel Gaines is a hiking therapist who takes some of his clients on the Ferndell Nature Trail in Griffith Park.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Taking many of his clients on an hour-long loop through Griffith Park, Gaines said he first came up with the idea in college and contacted Amanda Stemenanother local therapist who often takes her clients to Kenneth Hahn’s recreation area.

“With freedom of movement comes this kind of freedom to really question and consider possibilities in your life that you hadn’t thought of,” Gaines said. “I just feel like it really helps the flow of ideas and the flow of conversation.”

Part of that stems from his own experiences — Gaines said he enjoys walking while talking with his own therapist — but there are clear benefits to getting out of the house or office too. He mentioned that numerous studies have shown spending time outdoors in nature can help with everything from ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder to depression and anxiety.

“It’s not like it melts away all your problems,” he added. “But I feel like it gives people this feeling, like, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a big world here.’ And that can kind of help put things into perspective.

Leah, a surf leader from Groundswell who asked to be identified by her first name to protect her privacy, first found Groundswell while working with another local collective called Black Girls Surfing.

“[Groundswell was] talk about mental health in a way that I found very moving,” Leah said. “In my community, we don’t necessarily focus on emotions – it’s more about tough love. And so I was very intrigued. I was like, ‘Hmm. What if I started seeing myself with more compassion and treating the people around me with more compassion? »

Soon she was hired as one of Groundswell’s surf instructors, where she guides new and nervous surfers through the water. A native of Hawaii who moved to Southern California after college, Leah said she also had anxiety when she started surfing in Los Angeles.

“When I first put my wetsuit on it took me about 30 minutes – I was shaking,” Leah said. “You may be one of the only people of color on the beach and you have to put on your wetsuit and then you have to be like, ‘I’m going to go out on the waves and do this.'”

Three participants in the surf therapy program stand by the ocean.

Leah, left, and Ali, right, who wish to be identified by their first names, participate in the Groundswell surf therapy program.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

But the benefits of getting in the water, she says, often outweigh people’s initial fears.

“The main thing I noticed is when they’re on land, at the very beginning, they’re one-sided, but then when they go into the water, they’re laughing and smiling,” Leah said.

Ai, another member of the group, who asked to be identified by her first name to protect her privacy, said the group helped her overcome long-lasting trauma and anxiety.

“I’ve been in therapy for a decade,” she says. “And it definitely feels different than just regular talk therapy. It’s a lot less like ‘Let’s analyze your head.’ It’s more like meditation.

When Vicki Alvarez and Clorinda Rossi-Shewan each discovered dance therapy working with Kathy Cass and Hilary Kern as part of their chance to dance and Dance for all programs, they also felt enthralled with how the movement could help people express themselves.

In 2018, Alvarez, who is now a registered dance movement therapist, and Rossi-Shewan, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, took the initiative to train others in the Dance For All program and renamed his signature class in Let’s Dance It Out for teens and adults with special needs. While the class isn’t quite therapy, Alvarez said the activities they do draw on what they’ve learned in their individual therapy practices.

“How can I identify this feeling that is rising in my body, it is not always easy to say out loud or to verbalize? she says. “I can show that emotion through my body and then have someone else witness it. We can have those feelings and just coexist in that space and go through things together.

Instructor Rachel Symons, center, dances with students during the Let's Dance It Out class.

Rachel Symons, center, dances with students during Let’s Dance It Out class in Santa Monica. The program aims to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills using the power of movement.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Dancers in Halloween costumes.

Let’s Dance It Out participants called the class “healing.”

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Kellie McKuen, one of the dancers in the class, said she joined Let’s Dance It Out when it was called Chance to Dance about 20 years ago.

“As a 60-year-old woman now and on the autism spectrum, it was different when I was a kid,” McKuen said. “I really didn’t get the chance [to dance] because the kids were pretty naughty.

But once she found that space to dance and express herself, she just wanted to keep coming back. She said the simple act of giving other dancers room to express whatever they’re thinking can be healing in itself.

“Some people come in and have been non-verbal and shy and don’t really want to get up and dance,” McKuen said. “And then I tell you, like two or three years later, they’re stealing the scenes.”

” It is as if ! she continued. “All you needed was just the opportunity and a little patience and look what bloomed.”

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