Big Picture: The sea as co-therapist

Words by Dr Victoria E. Galbraith; image by Jon Sutton.

Anecdotally, we have known for centuries that the sea can facilitate a sense of wellbeing; empirical evidence is now becoming available, specifically the work of Wallace J. Nichols (Blue Mind) and the University of Exeter’s Blue Gym Programme, which indicates that proximity to the coast is positively associated with good health. As a counselling psychologist who regularly facilitates imagery-based relaxation, it is impossible to overlook how often individuals will opt for a coastal location as their safe, relaxing space; and practitioners are increasingly taking therapy outdoors into natural settings. Furthermore, there is growing evidence to suggest that the coastline and engagement with ocean-based activities, such as surfing and paddle boarding, may carry therapeutic qualities. Early indicators suggest positive outcomes for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction and autism as a result of surfing.

So, how can we harness the natural power of water to facilitate wellbeing? SEAcotherapy, a health and wellbeing concept, based on current evidence around utilising the sea as a co-therapist, launched this spring. We incorporate various coastal activities, including paddle boarding, surfing, arts and crafts, yoga, pilates, mindfulness and talking therapies. Particular attention will be focused upon wellbeing and preventative mental and physical healthcare, with a view to extending to a clinical population should research evidence show effectiveness. Moreover, we see this as an opportunity to further research the area, to destigmatise mental health and to facilitate awareness of marine conservation towards transformative learning.

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