FOOD & DRINK
04/17/2017 10:41 am ET Updated Apr 18, 2017

How Something Called 'Culinary Arts Therapy' Can Change Your Life

Cooking as a means of therapeutic expression.
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When we first heard about culinary art therapy, we immediately thought, “It’s about time.” It seemed so clear that cooking could be used as a form of therapy. The process of putting a meal together, or baking a treat for someone, is thoughtful. It requires attention and intention ― and it focuses your mind on a tangible task while hopefully muting out the noise of the busy world around us.

We had to learn more, so we reached out to Julie Ohana, a culinary arts therapist who wrote her 2004 master’s thesis on this idea and has since built a business on it. She filled us in on the practice that appears to be growing in popularity. Here’s what she had to say:

HuffPost: What exactly is culinary arts therapy?

Ohana: CAT, as I like to call it, is cooking as means of therapeutic expression. Traditional talk therapy has its place for many people ― I am a firm believer in therapy ― however, I think in this modern world of 2017, many people are looking for something a bit less traditional and conventional. CAT can be an outlet for those people. 

What kinds of skills, dishes or meals are learned and prepared during culinary arts therapy? 

When I do a session for an individual or a group, I work with them to tailor make the session to their needs and likes. I have made many different kinds of dishes ranging from breakfast dishes to main courses and, of course, desserts. It isn’t so much about the kind of dish, but the process in which it is prepared and then served and enjoyed.

How does culinary arts therapy work logistically?

I have an office space that has a kitchen. I also recently just started doing online sessions. It is really able to fit into the life of the client, meet their needs and make it easier for them. I have also done many group sessions for staff groups in offices. Lastly, going to a client’s home is always a possibility as well.

I do like to give “homework” too ― it helps the client to be more mindful and be able to translate kitchen lessons into “real world” take aways.

Do you combine traditional therapy with culinary arts therapy?

Great question ― it’s a hard one because it depends on the client. If someone is really aware and able to, then yes, we will make therapeutic connections in the kitchen. Sometimes they happen after the session when either me or the client makes an observation, does some journaling or in conversation afterwards. The idea is absolutely to connect the two, but it needs to be in the best way for the client. 

Who can benefit from culinary arts therapy?

I do believe it can help with depression, anxiety and grief. The ability to step outside of certain thoughts or actions, even if it is just for an hour or so can provide tremendous relief. That hour is a good building block to grow on. Then being able to manage one self, time, thoughts, energy hopefully is learned behavior that again starts in the kitchen and then grows to other areas of someone’s life. 

Grief, in particular, can be something CAT can help with because of that sensory experience that is tied to memory. Cooking can help someone process those memories in a positive way and be able to allow the ability to cope with the loss, process it and move forward in a positive way. 

Is culinary arts therapy different than arts therapy? How?

I am definitely not an expert in art therapy so I can’t really tell you about any specific details in art therapy, but I would venture to say any therapeutic technique is about the process ― and CAT is no exception. 

How is culinary arts therapy being accepted in the therapy world?

We have a ways to go until CAT is as well known and recognized as other creative therapeutic techniques such as music therapy and art therapy. But with such a growing interest, I have no doubt that we will get there one day. 

I think the world has changed and evolved in so many ways, especially in the last decade or so, and this is no exception. Twenty years ago, or even 10 years ago, who would have thought that so many people would try and accept therapy over Skype or other internet-based mediums ― and this will be one day, too.

What is the future of culinary arts therapy? 

I think more and more people are looking to gain more meaningful experiences out of the mundane, everyday task. I think the world of CAT is going to be really big one day and I hope to be a part of that growth!

 This interview has been edited down for clarity.

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