Is cooking therapy the new Prozac?


Debra Borden



Overwhelmed, overworked and over-medicated? If this sounds like you (or everyone you know), maybe the answer isn’t in your medicine cabinet or even your therapist’s office, but in your own kitchen. Cooking therapy is the latest tangible therapy that’s showing up in treatment centers and therapeutic settings across the globe. Why? Because like art or equine therapies, experiential therapies can have powerful results, often in one session.

How does mere cooking become cooking therapy? In a customized recipe session, every step becomes purposeful, and fertile ground to explore behaviors, limitations and patterns. Preparing a recipe can crystallize the way you face challenges in your life, and with cooking therapy, you’ll learn what many chefs and home cooks already know: cooking is a healing act. It provides opportunities for self-reflection and growth. When was the last time your steamed salmon came with a side of self-esteem?

Cooking therapy can fill these prescriptions:

Metaphor. Cooking is “ripe” with metaphors that can inform your understanding of yourself. Do you come to a boil slowly? Simmer for hours? Chill when necessary? Add a little at a time? Fold gently? Through the use of cooking terms, self-examination takes on a visual dimension quite different than with traditional talk therapy.

Mindfulness. By focusing on each step and what it can mirror in your relationship or communication style, you will not only access the Zen aspects of food prep (color, smell and ritual), but you will receive additional self-understanding. Are you soothed or impatient waiting for the pudding to thicken? Does the precise chopping required make you feel calm or annoyed? When marinating or waiting for the bread to rise, are you impatient? Do you look for shortcuts or substitutes? Maybe that’s okay, but at least you will do it consciously.

Mastery. The end of every cooking therapy session begets a success. Many people dealing with life’s challenges don’t feel a lot of mastery. We could all use a little more of that. Even if the dish doesn’t look exactly as planned, that’s a good time to examine failure vs. success. Cooking therapy requires showing up, participating and processing. So even if that sourdough ended up as crackers, you achieved your goal and have something to show for your time.

Cooking therapy is virtually free (just the cost of a meal), easily accessible (your own home) and here comes the F-word … FUN. Yes, therapy can be fun. No one said you have to cry to feel better. Many “lightbulb” moments come in the middle of a laugh.

Another important part of cooking therapy is naming the recipes so you’ll remember them and be able to channel the success of a session. So, a Lemon Curd Tart, used to work through feelings of anger, is renamed “I’m Curdling Mad Lemon Tart.”

Finally, in these super-stressed, cellular, snapchat times, all therapists recognize that getting in touch with our senses instead of our electronics is beneficial. And, while no experiential therapy is meant to be a substitute for traditional therapy, issues that emerge can be further explored in a traditional setting. One thing is certain: with cooking therapy, you’ll have a chance to connect with yourself, and go forward recharged and renewed, better equipped to handle life’s challenges, one meal and mood at a time.

Debra Borden

Debra Borden is an LCSW in New York and New Jersey, and has worked with clients in a variety of settings, including, as a Sous Therapist in their homes. “Cook Your Marriage Happy,” the first in her Cook Yourself Happy series, is her third book. Visit her at www.cookyourselfhappy.com.

Debra Borden is an LCSW in New York and New Jersey, and has worked with clients in a variety of settings, including, as a Sous Therapist in their homes. “Cook Your Marriage Happy,” the first in her Cook Yourself Happy series, is her third book. Visit her at www.cookyourselfhappy.com.

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