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Meet Lena Dicken, PsyD of Saltwater Sessions

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lena Dicken, PsyD.

Lena’s story, which would become the story of Saltwater Sessions, began where she grew up in Maryland, five hours from the coast. Her family was what some would call “alternative.” She was raised vegetarian, and learned to meditate when she was 13. Not terribly strange for California, but pretty out of the ordinary for someone from a small town on the east coast.

Two years into an undergraduate degree at The University of Maryland she felt stuck, uninspired and restless. Around this time, she was offered a one-way ticket to the island of Kauai. She took it, and two weeks later she bought her first surfboard.

This was 12 years ago. Back then, while most of her college friends were staying up until 6am partying, she was waking up at 6am to surf the pier at Hanalei Bay.

Surfing proved to be the root of dramatic changes in her life. It awakened a love of nature. It improved her self-confidence. As a woman she found a sense of strength and beauty that was previously unknown to her. It also frustrated her immensely. On one occasion her surfboard hit her in the face, almost knocking her unconscious. And there were many less dramatic, but no less challenging days when she felt like quitting. But surfing’s special balance of elemental beauty, physical challenge, and incremental improvement, compelled her to stick with it.

As she got the hang of it, she learned how to channel the strength she found through surfing into other areas of her life, and found herself doing things she would have previously thought impossible. She moved to Central America and became a yoga instructor, eventually teaching classes in Spanish. She cycled 2500 miles through Southern Europe and travelled through India for two months. In addition to Hawaii and California, along the way she has surfed the waters of Indonesia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Spain, and France.

After pursuing a lifelong dream of traveling she went back to school and finished an undergraduate degree in Integrative Medicine. She later obtained a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, followed by a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Over the years while interning at several addiction treatment centers, she noticed that many people give up at the very moment when it is most important to keep going, when one more mindful push could carry them through challenge and into a new place of strength. This is where Saltwater Sessions was born. She realized that in order to succeed, one must first come face to face with feelings of frustration and failure. And not give up. She saw how surfing provided the perfect environment for learning how to keep going in the face of failure, while appreciating, and ultimately mastering the challenge.

Saltwater Sessions is based off Lena’s doctoral research. It combines several years working as a therapist in the addiction treatment community, over a decade of surfing, and half a lifetime of mindfulness practice.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has definitely been a bumpy road. My first partner had to step down right when the company was gaining momentum. All of a sudden, I had twice as much on my plate, not to mention losing the emotional support that my partner had provided. We have also pivoted our audience three times. What we thought was going to work for our first audience just didn’t. And the same for the second. I think we’ve finally found our stride but it was certainly stressful and there were many times I thought about giving up. This is my first business and it felt like there was a steep learning curve.

Please tell us about Saltwater Sessions.
Saltwater Sessions is a therapeutic program combining surfing, mindfulness, and positive reappraisal. The program is offered as either four or eight-week courses that meet once a week. Each of the sessions is organized around a theme that frames the challenges and rewards of surfing as metaphors for life on dry land.

Surfing is therapeutic. The stress of everyday life piles up quickly, and whether we experience family, financial, or work-related stress, surfing has the unique ability to help us press the pause button. We get exercise and release all the feel-good hormones that go along with that. We spend time in nature which improves our mental health. We come back from a session in the water and find that we can think more clearly, examine problems in a new way, and find new solutions to the issues that trouble us.

Through repeated exposure to mindfulness practice, participants form alternative responses to situations that lead to stress, leading to an increased ability to make rational decisions and come up with creative solutions. Mindfulness practice also changes how our minds work, shifting us away from processing reality in relation to past memories and experiences, and towards a mode of awareness rooted in the present moment.

We are most proud of the fact that we get to help people by utilizing methods that are enjoyable and fun, but that also promote emotional growth and increased awareness at the same time.

What sets us apart is that we don’t just go surfing. We are one-part surfing, one-part mindfulness, and one-part group therapy. Our participants talk through what they go through, both in the water and out. The shared experience helps participants see they aren’t the only ones who struggle with certain issues. They move through challenges together, and bond in the process.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I was a gymnast as a kid. My older brother and I used to spend hours and hours in our backyard on our trampoline. We would hold hands and he would do a “double bounce” where I would get catapulted into the air and I would be completely inverted in the air. It felt like I was flying. Looking back, it was incredibly dangerous, but I trusted him completely and we never got hurt. It was so much fun.

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Image Credit:
Alexa Miller
Elli Papayanopoulos

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1 Comment

  1. j martin

    November 8, 2017 at 03:04

    Awesome Lena!

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