Surf Therapy for People with Acquired Brain Injury

A proposed conceptual model for the benefits of surf therapy in people living with acquired brain injury, illustrating potential relationships between the six overarching themes identified in the research and potential underlying mechanisms.


When asked about the results, Gibbs says that the findings relating to Contact with nature were congruent with the existing literature and, as such, in line with their expectations; after all, the benefits of nature immersion was one of the key reasons they chose to harness the power of blue spaces for this neurorehabilitation programme. Facilitating trust and safety, though noticed and mentioned by participants as a fundamental component of the therapy, was also expected, what with providing a safe and supportive therapeutic environment being of the essence in neurorehabilitation and something the clinical team was really adept at. Managing and accepting difficult emotions, on the other hand, caught the attention of Gibbs and her team. Several studies have shown that the focus required when being in the sea can generate a sense of respite, yet they didn’t expect for surfing – or the ‘unpleasant’ experiences involved in surfing, such as falling off the board – to help facilitate feelings of acceptance as much as they did. “The beauty of the Surfability intervention is that the dynamic nature of the tide, wind and sea and the challenging environment means that those new to surfing – and especially stroke and brain injury survivors – experience difficult thoughts and emotions in that very moment – and the clinicians are right there with them to support them through it,” emphasises Gibbs. “I can’t say whether surfing would have facilitated acceptance without the support of the clinicians in this population, but activities such as surfing might allow people to see or experience how difficult emotions can actually lead to the experience of positive emotions. It might be hard dealing with falling off the board while learning, but doing so means you get to experience the positive emotions facilitated by surfing too.”

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