Ocean Therapy: Helping Vets Cope with PTSD | Snikwah

Ocean Therapy: Helping Vets Cope with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious subject. It is one of the more recent and most widespread health issues faced by veterans in the United States. The two most accepted recovery approaches are prolonged-exposure therapy (PE) and cognitive-processing therapy (CPT). PE is conducted by constantly and vividly revisiting the traumatic experience to understand and overcome it while CPT aims to cope with how the patient responds to events in their postwar life.

The problem with any type of recovery system is that it does not work for everyone. Many veterans who endure chronic pain are given strong drugs that can actually become extremely addictive. There are many other types of therapy options available that span from art therapy to yoga to cross-country skiing. Over the past decade, a new method of therapy has emerged from Carly Rogers, an L.A. lifeguard and graduate student from the University of Southern California. This program was dubbed “Ocean Therapy”.


Young man floating in the swimming pool


Ocean therapy teaches soldiers how to surf, which then transitions into structured group discussions on the beach after each session. Since 2007, over 1,000 marines have found solace in ocean therapy. In addition, hundreds of vets and surfers have contributed their time to the success of the program, including 11-time World Surf Champion Kelly Slater. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy recently published a paper stating that the study reported significantly decreased PTSD symptoms after participating in the program for only 5 weeks.

The ocean therapy program was roughly based on the flow theory. In scientific terms, “the physical exertion and intense focus required to surf often produces flow states, which flood the brain with neurochemicals and anandamide and serotonin, the same substances found in antidepressants. In addition, it’s believed that when people are submerged in water, their bodies alter the balance of epinephrine and dopamine to levels achieved during meditation.”


Portrait of a young woman swimming over surfboard in the water at beach


With growing participation numbers and success stories, ocean therapy could be the answer for some veterans. “In combat, you wait and you wait, and then you engage in a firefight,” Rogers says, quoting a participant. “In surfing, you wait and you wait, and then you get a beautiful adrenaline rush.”

If you or anyone you know would like to find out more information about PTSD or have any questions, please visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/.

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