Joel took a career risk that could have seen his ‘head on the chopping block’. It paid off
- Joel Pilgrim is the founder of Waves of Wellness (WOW), a surf therapy organisation.
- The mental health occupational therapist established WOW after taking a “clinical risk” that he says helped a client
- WOW combines surf instruction with professional therapy.
“He was just this completely different person when he moved down that guard and moved away from that formal, clinical setting,” Mr Pilgrim says. “Shared with me things he had never shared before.”
Therapy begins with an ‘expression session’ with 10 to 15 people talking in a circle on the sand on their boards before they take to the water. Source: AAP / Supplied
The experience propelled Mr Pilgrim to co-found Waves of Wellness (WOW), a surf therapy organisation that has, to date, treated more than 3,200 people across 10 locations Australia-wide.
They have programs specifically for high-functioning men whose mental health can otherwise “fall through the cracks”, war veterans, emergency services workers, domestic violence and women’s trauma groups, youth at risk and youth off the streets programs, programs for Aboriginal and First Nations people and people in the LGBTQI+ community.
“People are just people out there, having beautiful conversations.”
Are ‘alternative’ treatments like surf therapy actually effective?
“Additionally, improving active relationships with blue and green spaces can enhance emotional wellbeing and social connectedness.”
Surfers at Cabarita Beach, NSW. Edith Cowan University clinical psychologist, Mary Brennan, says spending time in “blue spaces” can assist with reducing anxiety and stress. Source: AAP / Jason O’Brien
But in general, ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ treatments like surf therapy should be considered supportive, rather than replacing foundational, evidence-based therapeutic techniques.
“We’re removing the stigma and allowing people to come and access this type of support and therapy which they would never ever have accessed otherwise.”