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Surf Therapy For Trauma Recovery

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Neuroscience
of Surf Therapy

Before surfing was competition, it was medicine- it was dance, it was celebration, it was community, and it was prayer. Humans have known surfing to be therapeutic for centuries. Modern Surf Therapy combines these elements with clinical psychology, trauma neuroscience, and experiential therapies for an evidence based treatment modality for PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, addiction, and more.  Learn more below.

Key Components to Trauma Recovery:

Emotional Regulation: finding a way to be and maintain a state of calm and focus despite triggers and external conditions. Experiencing trauma and compounding stress deeply impacts our nervous system and ability to regulate our emotions. See here for symptoms of imbalanced nervous system. We increase capacity for emotional regulation and rebalance the nervous system through activities such as mindfulness, breath, movement, and grounding - Surfing applies all of these elements at once creating a noticeable  physiological shift after just one surf session! Our goal is to integrate these tools / practices into your daily life on land. 

Resiliency: the capacity to withstand or recovery quickly from difficulties.  For many of my clients it may feel like they are living in the past  reexperiencing their trauma over and over in their body because their nervous system is still holding onto the fear or pain of the experience. They may feel in constant defense mode because our brain's defense system (amygdala) is in overdrive to assure the trauma won't happen again.  An important piece to increasing resilience is building the capacity to identify what is triggering (what is sending our body into the past), observe that we are in fact experiencing a trigger AND that we are not in current danger. By doing so, we bring the neocortex back online (the rational part of the brain) and can rewire new memory into the lymbic system (the emotional part of the brain).

The goal of resilience building is not to avoid triggers- it's to experience them, move through them, and allow our body to complete the stress cycle. Surfing is not a stress free experience. More waves! But, each wave can provoke healthy stress hormones that pull us into the present. We are then invited by each wave to move through the stress response, and each wipeout invites our nervous system to shake off and release the stress (rather than trapping it in the body). Then, we can recognize we are safe and do it all over again! 

 

Mindfulness and Breath: There is a forced presence that occurs in surfing where we are brought directly into our senses, the elements, and to our natural breath. Most of my clients learn throughout our sessions they are perpetually holding their breath or not fulling engaging their diaphragm. Each inhale allows us to activate our sympathetic nervous system, and each exhale our parasympathetic nervous system. If we are not breathing correctly, or engaging both systems, we are likely to have an imbalance in our nervous system which will decrease safety, empathy, joy, curiosity, and social connection. If we experience a trigger in this state our body is more likely to hang onto it, without moving through the stress cycle.

Community: Trust, intimacy, and safety are several components compromised by trauma. We as humans have a deep need for belonging; that is to both feel seen, understood, and accepted by others.  Surf Therapy is done within community so we can be witnessed, celebrated, held, and mirrored by those around us in a safe and encouraging environment. While this may be the scariest part of trauma healing, it is also essential. In safe social environments, our body's stress system turns off, blood pressure lowers, and heart rate slows creating state of relaxation. What makes Surf Therapy different from a lesson or excursion are the clinically supported workshops and discussions that foster an environment where intimacy becomes possible. 

 

Joy / Play : Surfing provides an opportunity to use our body for unique self expression, create joy, and play! Laughter and joy are important parts of trauma healing because laughter is our bodies natural way of shaking off or completing a stress cycle. It also relieves pain, soothes muscle tension, improves the immune system, and overall mood. Play also helps us reclaim power and control over our own body. One of the best parts of surfing is having fun, dancing in the waves, and creating new joyful memories. 

Spiritual Development: An important domain in post traumatic growth is the presence of a higher power and answering deeper existential questions about the purpose of life. Through spiritual development we gain positive coping skills like meditation, prayer, and a deeper connection to self and others. Surfing actually originated as a religious practice in Polynesia and today many surfers connect with their faith in the water. Regardless of your belief, Surf Therapy offers the opportunity to explore a meaningful relationship with mother nature and the ocean, finding belonging in the sea, and allowing her to teach, guide, and support us in the process.
 

Natural  Benefits 

  • High levels of magnesium absorbed by the body through salt water (magnesiums supports mood regulation and overall nerve function)

  • Release of positive endorphins and stress hormones by surfing

  • Production of anti inflammatory molecules and release of negative ions from moving water. 

Siegel, Wallace, Van Der Kolk,  International Surf Therapy Org

Join us in the waves!

1

Join a Surf Retreat! 

Learn more about our upcoming therapeutic surf retreats in beautiful Costa Rica. Expand your healing and deepen your relationship to self, others, and nature. No previous surf experience is required!

 

Our retreats operate in partnership with local surf professionals at RideIn to offer the highest level of both surf & therapeutic safety.

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Training / Speaking

If you are a surf company, retreat host, or therapeutic program interested in  Trauma Informed Practices, Surf Therapy Facilitation, or other topics - let's connect.  Kristin is a trained adventure therapy facilitator and has provided trauma informed trainings and presentations in the workplace.

Licensing and Credentials 

 

License In Clinical Social Work State of Oregon: L10773

Surf Therapy for Trauma Recovery Trained - Groundswell Community Org.

Brainspotting 1 + 2 Training with specialty training in Developmental Trauma

Lens Neurofeedback Trained

Heart Math Trained 

Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Certified

Wilderness First Responder Certified

Masters Degree in Social Work - Portland State University

Dual Bachelor's degree in Sociology and Social Work University of Wisconsin -Steven's Point

Pricing and Insurance

For psychotherapy I work virtually with clients in the State of Oregon, USA.

For cash paying clients, my rate is $150 for a virtual 50 minute psychotherapy session. I can provide a Monthly Superbill for you to offer your insurance for reimbursement if you are not in network.

Accepted Insurance Plans: Pacific Source Health Plans, Aetna, and 
First Choice Health. 



 
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