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A grounded theory exploration of programme theory within waves of wellness surf therapy intervention

Marshall, Jamie; Ferrier, Brendon; Martindale, Russell; Ward, Philip B


Philip B Ward


Poor mental health represents a large proportion of disease burden faced by young Australians, which has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the reluctance of this population to seek support. Surf therapy is a novel form of intervention targeting mental health. The objective of this study was to interrogate programme theory within surf therapy, as delivered by the Waves of Wellness Foundation (WOW) in Australia.

Methods and Measures
The study utilised grounded theory to understand or develop theoretical mediators for WOW surf therapy based on interviews exploring the experiences of previous intervention participants (n = 16; mean age = 18.4 years, SD = 2.8, range 14–24). Data were analysed through constant comparative analysis.

Five categories emerged from participant data as foundational to WOW programme theory: (a) Safe Space, (b) Social Support, (c) Sensory Grounding, (d) Mastery and (e) Respite. These categories have novel theoretical and practical implications for both surf therapy and wider clinical practice, especially around concepts such as delivering ‘mental health by stealth’ and fostering longer term ‘mental health maintenance’ for participants.

The study developed an initial WOW programme theory, highlighting the importance of foundational therapeutic structures beyond simply going surfing.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 11, 2023
Online Publication Date May 21, 2023
Deposit Date May 22, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 22, 2023
Journal Psychology & Health
Print ISSN 0887-0446
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords qualitative research, physical activity, mental health, well-being, program theory, surf therapy


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