Food is Medicine, Cooking is Therapy – A Proposal by Michelle Tobin, LCSW and Elise D’Haene, Ph.D
Cooking Therapy is a hands-on expressive therapy instructed by a mental health professional and chef that combines cooking and cooking-related activities with psychological theory and techniques geared toward wellness. Cooking therapy is a prevention-based, multi-faceted approach that includes outreach, teaching, and hands-on learning, which connects lifestyle choices to mental health. Information about mental health issues and services is provided during cooking demonstrations. The aim of the program is to increase awareness about mental health and addiction issues, access to services, and the power of food choices and cooking in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Cooking Therapy is a proactive approach to mental health. It is a non-threatening and affordable way to reach people who would not otherwise seek mental health services. Classes introduce therapeutic principles alongside meal preparation. Recent research has indicated that eating healthy foods is not enough to mitigate the negative effects of stress. Cooking Therapy teaches mindfulness and relaxation techniques through the act/art of cooking nutritious meals in order to optimize the benefit of healthy ingredients.
Cooking Therapy is a flexible approach, which can be adapted to meet the needs of the community. Originally developed for a university setting to teach students about healthy food choices and the benefits of preparing their own meals alongside other wellness techniques, cooking therapy has since been adapted to teach physicians how to address mental health concerns with their patients. Classes for medical professionals address mental health issues for which they are often the first line of defense as most people go to their family physician for help before they consider seeking help from a therapist. Sample classes include: Patient Pantry: Affordable suggestions for making cooking at home easier; Food & Mood: Assessing for and treating depression; and, Nourishing Recovery: Cooking with healthy ingredients to ease symptoms during recovery from drugs and alcohol. The goal of teaching doctors to cook healthy meals will be to send them into the community to partner with a chef to teach free classes to underserved populations.
Cooking Therapy expands upon existing approaches to therapy and increases public awareness about the services that are available and reduces stigma. Cooking Therapy adds to the toolbox of modalities that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. The chef/therapist can partner with other experts in the health and education fields to provide up-to-date information on nutrition, medicine, and psychopharmacology.
Cooking Therapy is portable. It can be taught wherever kitchen space is available—in homes, churches, synagogues, community centers, and schools.