Surf Sessions



I am about to offer a new service in my practice which I am very excited about, and you are among the first to know. As I was working on my first video blog this summer about recovering from breakups and navigating significant upheavals in one’s life I met Wes, who owns a surf shop called The Shack Surf  Shop in Rye, New Hampshire (check it out! They make their own really great T-Shirts which are high quality and extremely comfortable--- and, no, I do not get any kickback for saying this nor do I have any commercial interest in their business succeeding). After learning I am a therapist he began to talk more candidly. Being part of the surf culture in New Hampshire he said he knows a lot of folks up there who are struggling with relationships (and who also happen to surf). Wes floated along an idea he said he’s had for a while, and suggested that I do Surf Sessions. 
At first I thought it was a crazy idea. I mentioned it casually to one of my mentors who thought it was a great idea. She said there is a group called Surfers Healing who travel around the country taking kids with autism out surfing. I looked into this and the kids and families who work with them describe amazing results, calmed emotions, increased confidence, etc. All of a sudden this pipe dream of an idea became very real. Now it is a reality and it is almost here. 
Sometimes a problem has been a problem for so long it is difficult to recognize it. Even if you do recognize it the idea, alone, feels overwhelming. It’s also possible that you’ve thought abut it for so long or that it is part of a repetitive pattern of thinking, that sitting around and talking about it, in and of itself, may not be enough to shake things up and get things moving in your life. In fact, if it is part of an anxiety process, talking about it repetitively may make the anxiety worse. Exercise has been shown in extensive research, some using actual brain scans, to significantly reduce anxiety. What better way to integrate this into the counseling process than by being in a position to have this be an active part of the session? Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, among many different types of exercise people can engage in for the purposes of managing anxiety, depression, etc.  
As a therapist I can recommend that you take action, change your lifestyle, get into an exercise routine, advise thought stopping or exposure strategies... or we can change the whole scene where we do the work, and actively apply these concepts in vivo. I find that clients’ motivation outside the session wanes and it has long been documented that lack of progress in therapy is related to clients not applying emotional regulation skills independently outside of the session.
Part of the concept behind Surfers Healing is that immersing oneself in the water, and being part of the process of nature is healing in and of itself. This is also a concept inherent in Adventure Therapy, which has become quite popular in the last decade. Outside of the the inherent therapeutic effects of being in the ocean or connecting with nature, surfing is a great metaphor for life and overcoming hardships involved in it. It takes persistence and teaches each surfer, novice and veteran alike, that each challenge is an opportunity to either give up or learn from and become stronger. Surfing is also a great way to overcome fear. Who is not afraid being out in the open ocean, especially when a wave is walling up in front of you, while you are out there alone floating on a board. I believe most people think surfing is something they are not able to do. I certainly had this thought, but by going out and doing it, even on my worst days when all I did was fall, I overcame many self-limiting beliefs. Surfing was a large part of my own healing process a few years ago. Bottom line, why would I not make available something that I found so profoundly healing to others just because it seemed out of the norm?    
A few potential benefits of surfing include (in addition to those mentioned above):
- Being on the ocean can be helpful to break the chain of repetitive thoughts, reduce anxiety ... and be a place where people can overcome fears. 
- Breaking the mundane routine in life can bring about many revelations and insights that become trapped in the mold of the daily routine. 
- Help people overcome problems with deficits of confidence to be able to get out there and do something they may have previously imagined they couldn’t do.
My life and my practice is about overcoming fear, pain and adversity and coming out a stronger and more resilient person from it. This is what I want to share with people in need of guidance to navigate the fear, pain, and adversity they’ve experienced in their own life. I certainly don't believe that surfing can heal "all" wounds in and of itself, but there are certainly a lot of people who feel this way, as does the man who signed the picture above. I do believe it is one avenue that has great potential to provide what people need to heal, and would love to be your guide in this process. 
If you are not already a surfer, (1) do not try this unless you already know how to swim, (2) checked with your doctor that you are in good enough physical health to engage in surfing as it is a strenuous activity, and (3) I strongly recommend you take some surfing lessons on the basics of how to surf and surfing safety! Then enjoy! 
Photo by Dan Bolton
Exercise has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety:
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