Carmel Valley therapist helps lead surf therapy sessions

Tracey Chester
(Courtesy of Tracey Chester)

The nonprofit Groundswell Community Project and a local marriage and family therapist recently held grief support groups that use surf therapy at Cardiff State Beach, Ocean Beach and Half Moon Bay.

Groundswell is also holding a six-week Holiday Virtual Support Group on Mondays from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. through Dec. 20.

“Surf therapy sessions are around 70% on land and 30% in the water,” said Tracey Chester, founder and clinical director of the Pain Trauma Institute, who also runs the surf therapy program with Groundswell. “It’s rooted in somatic and art therapy, nature therapy and trauma therapy, yoga and mindfulness.”

Chester, who lives in Carmel Valley, said her journey to becoming a therapist started when she was a child.

“I’ve been a chronic pain sufferer, and I also have complex developmental trauma, which is a form of PTSD that’s in early childhood,” she said.

Chester said she’s been a surfer since moving to the area.

“I moved down here specifically to surf,” she added. “I was 30, I hadn’t surfed yet. We moved down here with two kids and no job.”

She eventually started taking other mothers with her.

“So I was intuitively kind of doing what Groundswell is doing,” she said.

Chester later came into contact with Natalie Small, a marriage and family therapist who started the Groundswell Community Project.

“I just got more involved and more involved as the pandemic went on and we weren’t able to do things,” Chester said. “Some grief was coming up for a lot of people.”

She added that the session are more about helping participants overcome their fears than they are about surfing skills.

“We want to get the word out there that we’re here and that we’re doing work for women around the world,” Chester said.

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