SURF THER­APY

In a sea of day-to-day chaos, Joel Pil­grim is bring­ing calm

Noosa Life and Style - - CONTENTS - MICHELE STERN­BERG

“ THE ocean calms my rest­less soul.” It’s a say­ing many of us may have heard, but for Joel Pil­grim those words ring true and he’s build­ing a move­ment to share the calm. The keen surfer of more than 20 years and men­tal health oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist has com­bined his two great loves to change the men­tal health land­scape. That move­ment is Waves of Well­ness, a form of surf ther­apy, which he’s bring­ing to Noosa this year. “Surf­ing is my drug and it’s a pretty good one, too,” Joel said. “For more than 20 years it’s been a big part of my life. It’s al­ways been some­thing I’ve turned to to cope with the BS that I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced. “I’m rapt to be com­ing to Noosa. I think it’s re­ally good for us that it’s com­ing to the Sun­shine Coast, rather than the Gold Coast,” he said. “The feed­back we’ve had is that com­mu­ni­ties up there are cry­ing out for these ser­vices. “Peo­ple have reached out to us so it’s im­por­tant that we are there. There seem to be a lot of peo­ple feel­ing iso­lated.” The idea for the pro­gram be­gan when Joel was work­ing with a client one-on-one and had the op­por­tu­nity to take him surf­ing. “That’s when I saw how pro­found the ex­pe­ri­ence was for him. I re­alised I needed to cre­ate this pro­gram. That was in 2014.” The WOW Surf­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence is an eight-week ev­i­dence based learn-to-surf pro­gram for peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health is­sues. It helps func­tional re­cov­ery, while pro­mot­ing so­cial in­clu­sion, en­gage­ment and en­hanced qual­ity of life. The pri­mary fo­cus of the pro­gram is to in­tro­duce surf­ing to par­tic­i­pants as a way to im­prove phys­i­cal health, men­tal health and well-be­ing in a neu­tral, non-in­tru­sive en­vi­ron­ment. Do you need ba­sic surf­ing skills to join in? “Ab­so­lutely not,” says Joel. “It’s about learn­ing to surf, do­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent and be­ing out of your com­fort zone.” The pro­gram, which started in New­cas­tle and at Bondi in Syd­ney, isn’t all surf­ing either. It’s also about cre­at­ing so­cial con­nec­tions and a safe space where peo­ple feel com­fort­able shar­ing their sto­ries and lis­ten­ing to the sto­ries of oth­ers. “There are dif­fer­ent pro­grams to help peo­ple with dif­fer­ent needs,” he said.

These in­clude pro­grams for find­ing well­ness tar­get­ing youth trauma, ju­ve­nile jus­tice, PTSD re­turned ser­vices and emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel pro­gram and NDIS re­cip­i­ents. They have re­cently ex­panded into cor­po­rate well-be­ing which fo­cuses on the im­por­tance of pos­i­tive men­tal health and well-be­ing in the work­place. Early in­ter­ven­tion is also a fo­cus of Joel’s work and he has de­vised an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram to dis­cuss men­tal health in schools. “Half of all men­tal health is­sues emerge by the age of 14 so it’s re­ally im­por­tant to start that con­ver­sa­tion with chil­dren and then we might be able to pre­vent life­long dif­fi­cul­ties with men­tal health is­sues by giv­ing them strate­gies to deal with the ups and downs of life,” he said. Joel uses the anal­ogy of a bro­ken arm. “In school ev­ery­one rushes to sign the cast. “The kid with the bro­ken arm is a hero among his or her friends, but peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health is­sues don’t al­ways have the same sup­port. “Men­tal health is in­vis­i­ble, but it should be treated like any other in­jury. It’s to­tally OK not to be OK and you don’t have to – ever – go it alone,” he said. The Waves of Well­ness pro­grams are suit­able for all ages and Joel says he’s had par­tic­i­pants aged from 12 up to 62. He said deal­ing with men­tal health is “not just about deal­ing with cri­sis, but also about find­ing healthy out­lets for peo­ple who are strug­gling, re­cov­er­ing and do­ing fine”. Joel’s out­let has been to re­con­nect with the ocean as of­ten as pos­si­ble and he says he loves the wa­ter so much that he would sleep in the ocean if he could. “For me, def­i­nitely be­ing able to cre­ate per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences for peo­ple on a daily ba­sis is life-chang­ing. “I’ve al­ways had the op­por­tu­nity to surf. For those peo­ple who don’t, I en­joy giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing that they’ve never had the op­por­tu­nity to do be­fore.” If you, or some­one you know, would ben­e­fit from join­ing the WOW pro­gram, go to www.foun­da­tion­wow.org or con­tact [email protected]­da­tion­wow.org.

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