Mark MicelliUWindsor social work grad Mark Micelli combines therapy with surfing in his practice on the beaches near Sydney, Australia.

Social worker surfing a wave to wellness

A social work alumnus who uses surfing as therapy to help people struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges dates his interest in alternative practices to his UWindsor education.

Mark Micelli (BSW 2012, MSW 2013) works with the Waves of Wellness Foundation on the beaches near Sydney, Australia. The group program engages participants in a weekly 30-minute discussion on wellness issues before paddling out into the ocean with facilitators who are both mental health professionals and certified surf instructors.

“Being at the beach and in the water allows people to engage in a group, in an environment that feels comfortable,” Micelli told the St. George & Sutherland Shire Leader newspaper. “It becomes a safe space to share their struggles if they wish to.”

Professor Kim Calderwood recalls Micelli’s interest in getting out of the office to meet clients, which he expressed in a written reflection on her course, Direct Practice.

“Mark wrote that he found it strange that counsellors assume that an office is the best place to conduct therapy, especially with younger demographics,” she says. “He said he wanted to explore other methods of intervention when dealing with clients.”

In fact, Micelli wrote in 2012: “I believe that it could be extremely beneficial for social workers who deal with young people to go outside with them, bounce a ball, play a game, kick around a soccer ball, or throw around a football while you get to know them. I truly believe that this will keep children entertained and help advance their therapeutic relationship with their worker.”

Now that he has had a chance to put the theory into practice, he is finding the outcomes exceeded his expectations.

“The therapeutic rapport and relationship seem to develop almost instantly in the ocean, when it may take weeks in a standard office setting,” says Micelli. “In the future, it would be great to see holistic programming like this expand and become more mainstream in mental health recovery.”