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Benefits of scuba diving in therapy

Divers know that scuba diving has a unique benefit on psychological factors. Diving can affect our state-of-mind, emotional regulation and how we view ourselves and our abilities (e.g. confidence, esteem, worthiness). Scuba diving also has specific psychological and physical therapeutic effects for a range of health conditions. People are becoming interesting in using scuba in therapy.

Scuba therapy research

Divers Alert Network report some of the recent history of scuba as a therapy in this article. Researchers are interested in a range of potential therapeutic effects of scuba.  Research on the psychological impact and therapeutic effects of scuba diving is only just beginning.  

Various conditions

Autism, anxiety, limb amputation, paralysis, post-traumatic stress, chronic pain etc. There is anecdotal evidence for the role of scuba in rehabilitation and recovery. These stories not only show the impact of addictions, diving, but also inspire:

Leo Morales: Loving Life Dive-abled 

Barry McMahon: Scuba Diving as Therapy

Different Therapy: Three stories of recovery via scuba dive training

Organisations providing scuba therapy

Several local and international organisations exist to deliver therapeutic scuba programmes.  Some organisations support people who have been seriously injured (physically or psychologically) to learn to dive.  Some train qualified dive professionals to dive with people who have health conditions or disabilities.  Other organisations specialise in providing adaptive dive education and training for dive professionals within their local areas.

Mental health conditions

Research is building on scuba diving with mental and emotional health conditions.  It is important to consider fitness-to-dive and many mental health conditions impact brain processes such as thinking, concentration and problem-solving.  Psychiatric medication can also have a range of effects that are incompatible with diving.  Several organisations note the positive effect on mental health and social relationships brought about through scuba diving, especially for post-traumatic stress.  These are recognised programmes, where diagnoses are disclosed and instructors are experienced in working with these issues. 

In any case, an opinion on fitness-to-dive will be required from a medical professional.  As yet, there is next to no research on diving and mental health.  Many divers do report that scuba diving has played a role in dealing with anxiety, depression or confidence issues.  

Training for scuba diving professionals

Training and diving with people who have additional needs may mean that dive professional need further knowledge and training. Professional bodies such as Disabled Divers International, the International Association for Handicapped Divers and the Handicapped Scuba Association are raising awareness and developing adaptive training and supporting centres all over the world.

Adaptive Diving

Major training agencies like PADI are now developing programmes to improve access to diving for all.  There are two PADI speciality courses. One for instructors to learn techniques for working with disabled divers, and the other for divers to support a buddy with a specific condition.  At the heart of “adaptive diving” is the idea that the activity is adapted to meet the ability of the person.  As always, divers will need to meet the requirements of the course to achieve certification. 

There is more than one way to do something, and divers with disabilities will often surprise their instructors in how they complete a skill.  If a diver is unable to meet the requirements of the training agency, it is also possible to seek certification with one of the disabled divers certification agencies. Specialist training agencies allow for divers requiring assistance.