Featuring work from Finisterre Ambassador Easkey Britton and longstanding friend of The Broadcast, Jamie Marshall, the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice (GJCCP) special issue on Surf Therapy is one of the first scientific journals to collate the evidence for the benefits of surf therapy.
Peer reviewed scientific journals like this are often dense and difficult to decipher, so we sat down with Jamie to create a digestible breakdown for those who want to learn more. The main headline? Surf therapy works, and we now have the evidence to prove it.
“In the last 10 years, we are just beginning to realise how active engagement with healthy marine and coastal environments, or ‘blue space’, can directly support, enhance and restore health and wellbeing, in particular for more vulnerable groups.”
- Easkey Britton, Finisterre Ambassador & Dr of Marine Social Science
One of the main ways that scientists share their discoveries is by publishing their work in peer reviewed journals. The peer review process consists of experts in the subject, recruited by the journal, to check the legitimacy of articles submitted for publishing . The aim of this is to check the accuracy of research conclusions before they are shared with the public and other researchers. When you hear about scientific breakthroughs on the news, they’re usually based on conclusions of a recent journal publication. A ‘Special Issue’ is an issue of an academic journal that specifically focuses on a particular topic or theme, in this case the topic was surf therapy.
“The GJCPP Special Issue on Surf Therapy is a watershed moment for the whole sector. Just a few years ago, the phrase ‘Surf Therapy’ was something rarely used, even by practitioners, despite personal stories and examples of its life changing potential. The fact that scientific journals are now using the term demonstrates the progress that has been made in developing Surf Therapy as an evidence-based form of care for vulnerable groups from many different backgrounds.”
- Jamie Marshall, PhD Researcher at Edinburgh Napier University
The GJCPP Special Issue on Surf Therapy is a big deal because it greatly contributes to the ‘evidence base’ for surf therapy. For any intervention or treatment to be widely accepted, used, and eventually prescribed it needs to be based on a body of verified and high-quality scientific work. The GJCPP Special Issue is a huge contribution towards the evidence base in surf therapy, a stepping-stone to widespread acceptance and eventual prescription.
“For myself and all of the team at Waves for Change, it's great to know that the results we see on the beach every day are being seen by so many other programmes around the world. And being able to talk about that together, in a journal such as the special edition, shines more light on work that we know has a profound impact”.
- Tim Conibear, Founder of Waves for Change
Tips for reading Scientific Journal Articles
If you do not have previous experience of reading academic journal articles or articles, it can sometimes feel like you’re trying to read a different language. Do not worry about technical terms or ‘jargon’ that you do not understand. (Especially in the methods section!)
Articles are broken down into sections and some of these may be more relevant to you than others, so have a look below for a snapshot view of what each section will contain:
Abstract - This is a short summary of the article including all of the key points. It is like a trailer for a movie that does include spoilers to the ending!
Introduction - This section includes a description of the background to the work and why the work is required. Make sure to give this a good read to understand the article’s place within the wider scientific landscape.
Methods - This section can look like it is written in a different language (this is equally true for researchers reading about methods they have little experience in). Do not worry about skipping this section if your primary interests are the papers conclusions.
Results - This section includes, surprisingly, the results! It can be worth reading this section, followed by the conclusion to see the bigger picture, and then re-read the results to better understand the study’s overall findings.
Discussion - This section will discuss the findings, any limitations to the study and what they mean for practice. If this is primarily what you are looking for, scan to find the implications or a similarly headed section.
GJCPP Summary + Articles
Ok, on to the good stuff! Below, we’ve collated the articles contained within the GJCPP Special Issue on Surf Therapy, outlining them in no more than 3 sentences (and avoiding all technical language or jargon!) The aim of these summations is to help guide your reading of the GJCPP Special Issue. The summaries are laid out in the same order as the Special Issue and link through to the corresponding article in full.
1) Introduction to the Special Issue on Surf Therapy Around the Globe.
This article highlights the background to surf therapy research and its place within community psychology practice. The article also provides more in-depth summations of all the following articles in the GJCPP Special Issue.
2) Surf Therapy: A Scoping Review of the Qualitative and Quantitative Research Evidence.
This article is a scoping review, that is a structured exploration of the state of research into surf therapy up until the present day. It examines the broad scope of locations that surf therapy works in, the wide range of different people it supports and the positive benefits it is reported to lead to. Finally, the paper highlights what kinds of research are missing from the evidence base in the current day and recommends ways to change this.
3) Coalition Building in Surf Therapy: A Case Study on Collective Impact.
This article explores the development of the International Surf Therapy Organization and the model it used to bring surf therapy organizations from around the world together to work towards common goals. It explores the benefits and the difficulties of this approach, how ISTO has and is seeking to overcome these difficulties and finally recommendations for others trying to establish similar collaboration.
4) “When I was surfing with those guys I was surfing with family.” A Grounded Exploration of Program Theory within the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation (JMMF) Surf Therapy Intervention.
This article explores the process behind how JMMF supports military veterans to improved mental health and well-being. Participants were interviewed in depth about their experiences with JMMF and through analysis these responses were linked to established psychological theory. These theories included an escape from negative emotions through ‘flow’ or being in the zone, access to psychological safe space, social support improvements and mastery of a new skill.
5) Surfing and the Senses: Using Body Mapping to Understand the Embodied and Therapeutic Experiences of Young Surfers with Autism.
This article explored the use of body mapping, that is drawing on or adding to body outlines (on paper and in the sand) to explore emotions and feelings associated with surf therapy, alongside observation and interviews with participants, parents, and instructors. It highlights the potential that embodied approaches such as body mapping have in providing in-depth and richer understanding of the health benefits of surf therapy.
6) Effects of PTSD and MDD Comorbidity on Psychological Changes during Surf Therapy Sessions for Active Duty Service Members.
This article used validated measures to explore and compare the impact of surf therapy sessions on active duty US service personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), or both. It found significant positive changes to mood and reductions in depression and anxiety for all groups with the biggest changes to participants with both PTSD and MDD. The article then discussed the potential positives surf therapy may have for broader mental health in contrast to particular disorders.
7) Emerging Hope: Outcomes of a One-Day Surf Therapy Program with Youth At-Promise.
This article used a validated measure and analysis of participant drawings to explore changes to hope (an established psychological metric) for youth at-promise attending JMMF surf therapy. A significant positive change to hope was found for participants that was maintained a month after exposure to surf therapy. Analysis of participant drawings highlighted the importance of fun, opportunities for learning, positive self-identity, feeling safe and social support within the surf therapy process.
8) SURF.ART in Portugal: Daring, Accomplishing and Transforming Portuguese Youth and their Communities.
This article explores changes to youth participants within a 3-year surf therapy intervention in Portugal using validated measures. It found significant reductions in emotional, conduct and social challenges and significant impact on positive social behaviours. The study also explored how these changes were affected by the amount of time participants had spent with the program, one of the first studies to explore dosage in relation to surf therapy. This article has an accompanying video.
9) The Wave Project: Evidencing Surf Therapy for Young People in the U.K.
This article used validated measures, interviews, and word association to explore changes to well-being across 5 years in a UK based surf therapy intervention. Significant positive changes to well-being were found while analysis of interviews highlighted the importance of a range of social, behavioural, and emotional processes within surf therapy. Word association highlighted the importance of fun for participants, a notion all surfers can probably relate to.
10) Positive Effects of Surfing on Psychological Wellbeing of Children with Developmental Difficulties.
This article used a validated measure to explore quality of life for surf therapy participants in Holland. It found significant improvements in 3 domains of life; psychological well-being, social support and school, there was a near significant improvement to the autonomy and parent relation domain while no change was noted in the physical well-being domain. Evaluation alongside parents further explored positive participant experience. This article has an accompanying video.
11) More than Surfing: Inclusive Surf Therapy Informed by the Voices of South African Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
This article used Makaton word association for participants alongside focus groups with parents, caregivers, teachers, and occupational therapists to explore the benefits of surf therapy for young people with Autism in South Africa. The study maps how participants’ emotional experiences went from nothing, through happiness to feelings of bravery by the end of the intervention which matched with focus group data highlighting positive changes to confidence, identity, relationships, and communication. The article also discusses how an existing intervention was adapted for neuro-diverse participants.
12) Intervention Mapping: Using Theory and Evidence to Inform the Ocean Mind Surf Therapy Program for Improving Youth Mental Health.
This article explores the success of a framework that was utilised to translate an existing surf therapy model from the UK to Australia. It highlights how this model was applied in a lived example alongside challenges faced in the process. It also includes key learnings from the process and recommendations for others wishing to translate interventions between different contexts.
13) Surf Therapy Practice, Research, and Coalition Building: Future Directions.
In this concluding article the editors of the GJCPP Special Issue on Surf Therapy reflect on the combined knowledge presented. The impact these articles have on the growing surf therapy evidence base is discussed, while future research priorities are highlighted. The article concludes with discussion of the future of surf therapy and the role that research and collaborative work spearheaded by ISTO have to play.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed reading the world’s first academic Special Issue on Surf Therapy and this guide has been helpful.
Anecdotally, it’s been clear for some time that surf therapy has huge benefits, particularly for vulnerable groups. With the publication of this report, that evidence is no longer just anecdotal. Surf therapy works, can improve lives and we now have the evidence to back it up.