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'Climbing helped me build my confidence:' Studies show rock climbing can be therapy

Rock climbing as therapy
Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 12:31:04-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — For the over 40 million Americans struggling with anxiety and depression, researchers found that rock climbing works as a therapy. University of Arizona researchers studied a group of patients that are new to climbing over a 24 week period.

Arizona-based professional climber Lor Sabourinsaid the study showed a clear health benefit from climbing, but it's not integrated into many therapy programs yet. Climbing — with a rope and without — is shown to boost self efficacy and social interactions, which are key in helping those with depression.

"We know it’s therapeutic and we know people are getting benefits from it," they said. "But when we try and describe why, it’s really challenging to do and that makes it really hard for it to be accepted as an evidence based treatment so it makes it hard for people to sign up or for people to pay for it."

For climber and Rock Solid Fitness climbing coach, Gustavo Figueroasaid he's seen how the sport impacted people. He's been climbing for the last 11 years and he said it's something that helped his own lifestyle.

"It tends to push people to be healthier in general," he said. "I know for me climbing helped me build a lot of my confidence and that’s what I see in a lot of people too.”

He said he's seen how his accomplishments on the wall helped him thrive in life.

“For a long time it was the thing that really satisfied the need to feel significant, to feel powerful strong and capable," he said.

Sabourin said the way that climbing can help people — both in the gym and off the wall — is that people have to focus on the task at hand instead of anything else.

"In life we are really stress avoidant, so it’s really interesting to be in an activity where we are looking for the appropriate amount of stress,” they said.

For Sabourin, there's a sense of relief and accomplishment when they get up on the wall and finish the climb.

"It became a really great resource for exploring my identity and for really helping with exploring concepts that were harder to deal with off the wall,” they said.

Sabourin is getting a degree in counseling and works for an organization called The Warriors Way, which helps people learn climb skills that help in life off the wall.

"Using climbing as either a new skill that people learn as a metaphor as they learn to do it or literally as a metaphor as they learn these skills," they said.

Both Figueroa and Sabourin said it's best to contact a local therapy group, The Warrior's Way or the University of Arizona to use this therapy in a clinical setting, or just start climbing at a local gym.