Solving problems with problems
We all know that hitting the climbing gym can make us feel better. But why? Now we know thanks to a one-of-its-kind study by a group of German researchers.
The researches at the University Hospital in Erlangen, Germany put forth a hypothesis asking whether climbing, specifically indoor bouldering, can have a therapeutic effect on people suffering from depression. The short answer, yes!
The study, conducted by researchers at the University Hospital in Erlangen, Germany, spent 16 weeks studying 47 participants, half of which (the “intervention group”) took part in this unique combination of mental and physical therapy to treat depression, while the other half served as a control.
The “bouldering therapy” consisted of a 8-week prescription of weekly bouldering sessions lasting three hours each. The therapy was held in groups of about 12 patients under the supervision of two mental health therapists (psychologists or registered nurses with a specific psychiatric qualification) who had undergone training in “therapeutic rock climbing” at the Austrian “Institute for Therapeutic Rock Climbing”. One of the therapists in each session was a climbing instructor certified by the German Alpine Association. The therapists also had several years of climbing experience themselves.
Each session began with a short meditation or mindfulness exercise; thereafter, the subject of the specific session was given, followed by a short psychoeducation on this subject. The session proceeded with subject-related bouldering games or exercises. Participants were encouraged to engage in new experiences (for example, bouldering blindfolded). After a break, the last part of the session consisted of free bouldering by which participants in small groups worked on their individual projects supported by the therapists. Each session ended with another mindfulness meditation and a gathering about what was experienced and how this could be integrated into daily life.
To measure the severity of participants’ depression and its increase and decrease during the study, the researchers used a multiple-point questionnaire called the BDI-II. The BDI-II is used to measure the intensity of depression.
During the 8-week bouldering therapy, the “results indicated positive effects on the measures of depression” with the intervention group. Their BDI-II score improved by 6.27 points, which is considered more than one severity grade on the BDI-II. For the same time period, the control group’s BDI-II improved by only 1.4 points.
The study also showed that participants with higher symptoms of severity showed greater improvement compared with those with lower symptoms of severity.
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