Using Tenkara to facilitate trauma therapy

I am taking a leap here to share something that I have developed this past year. In a nutshell, I have designed what I believe to be the first concept and model for integrating Therapeutic Fly Fishing with any psychotherapy model (it’s normally done along side psychotherapy, not as psychotherapy) - integrating it with EMDR (which is a well-researched/effective trauma therapy). The first model uses Tenkara as the method and I have a paper being reviewed right now that describes the nuts & bolts of the model. I am starting to use this model in therapy in retreat form and will be training therapists over the summer.

I have not written about this method outside of the EMDR community, or my own social media, and would like to know about any thoughts from the Tenkara community. Below is a link to my own website for the model, which doesn’t explain much, but I can share the paper once it’s ready for publication.

Curious about any thoughts, questions, or discussions about this. Thank you!



I think this is a brilliant idea, thanks for sharing it and helping those in need @tonyp.

I know several people who have benefited immensely from the use of EMDR and it has been life changing for them.

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Would this be somewhat similar to the Wounded Warriors Project where people take veterans fly fishing?
I love your idea. Keep us posted.

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Hi Peder and David, thanks! Organizations like Wounded Warrior Project and Project Healing Waters offer therapeutic fly fishing - but mostly it is fly fishing as usual within the context of helping people who experience PTSD or other disabilities. In a lot of cases, therapeutic fly fishing is done as a part of a mental health treatment program as a form of recreation therapy. These are most often done either by recreation therapists or by people who have significant experience fly fishing, but not by psychotherapists. They’re also done simply as fly fishing, along side whatever treatment is happening separately (here’s a link to a write up re: the program where I used to be a therapist).

There is no other way that I know of for doing psychotherapy AND fly fishing at the same time… and when I wrote my paper, I could not find any literature describing anything other than therapeutic fly fishing as recreation therapy. So - I am considering this as a radical, but not quite mind blowing development. When I thought of it I honestly thought “has nobody ever considered this?”

I developed Therapeutic Fly Fishing with EMDR (TF-EMDR) as a category of doing EMDR and fly fishing, and The Seiyu-zuri Method is the first process of doing that (and is what uses tenkara as the method). Besides tenkara, I also interweave mindfulness, guided imagery, and aspects of Zen Buddhist-influenced psychotherapy (Morita Therapy and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) to help link a person’s 5-senses experience to the natural environment… and there are other characteristics involved like “not taking pictures of fish” if they happen to be caught during therapy. I’ll post a link to the paper whenever it’s publish-ready - but there is also a lot that it doesn’t describe. Right now I am trying to build a way to treat therapists in the model, but really don’t know how to do that effectively without having people come here to do it with me in person. Most trainings are going to continue being done virtually post-COVID.

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Looks like an interesting approach. I know for me the practice of Tenkara and fly fishing feels like therapy. We started taking one of our kids who has special needs to a skiing program that is designed for helping people like him. They do skiing in the winter and fly fishing in the summer. For kids with autism they say they really get into fly fishing because of the technical aspects of it. I think it’s great that they are using fly fishing to help kids with autism.


For me, the simple fact that fly fishing (especially tenkara) is personally therapeutic is what caused me to think about this. Basically the question - how can I do two things that I love at the same time (EMDR therapy and fishing)?

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Thanks Peder, EMDR not only changed me as a therapist - but as a person in my own skin… very similar to when I connected to fishing in my own way.

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Sounds similar to the Project Healing Waters program, perhaps. As a veteran and fly fisher/tier I’ve tried to get involved here in MT, but this locale seems a bit disorganized as I didn’t get an email response several times. Then after my 4th attempt, someone responded and said they’d get back to me, but that was last summer.

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Hi Kris. PHW is great. I did mention them above so hopefully this isn’t a repeat. But, what PHW does and what other programs do is offering supportive fly fishing in the context of healing - not as a specific mechanism or psychotherapy model, and not (usually) by psychotherapists. Some therapeutic fly fishing programs operate inside of mental health treatment programs that have a person doing therapy and fly fishing separately. The models that I am talking about involve doing psychotherapy AND fly fishing (tenkara for the Seiyu-zuri method) together at the same time.

Also - PHW is an amazing program. I hope that you can connect with them despite whatever is making it difficult for that on their end.

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Hi Tony! I am super interested in your ideas. I am a therapist in Canada who has contemplated the use of fly fishing with mental health therapy.
I have my hands full in a bunch of stuff at the moment (working full time, started a private practice business, kids, household, ACT training, starting EMDR training next…)
I will reach out when I have the mental space to do so!

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Thanks Tony. I missed your mention of PHW above. I do hope to get involved.

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I think in general the meditation of tenkara is a great thing, but I also believe that there is a wiring that makes us fisherman and then tenkara fisherman.

Just being in nature and adjacent to a brook filled with life is extremely therapeutic.

Fishing can be frustrating and aggravating for some and it may need to be part of the program to decouple the task from the experience. Ideas being a stepped process of learning where the final objective is catching a fish.

Learning to mediate and enjoy nature is critical.

Learning to observe cues in nature and the relationship of its organisms.

Learning to understand water flow and what happens to an object in water.

Learning the mechanics of casting a line without a fly

Leaning the mechanics of casting a line with a fly but without a hook.

Perhaps even fishing a fly without a hook.

In general decoupling the objective from the skills…finally leading to trying to catch a fish.


@Gressak , thanks so much for these thoughts. So, for Seiyu-zuri (the method using tenkara) emphasis is simply on casting and using either dead drift or two types of presentation to move the fly - keeping your eye on the fly (to facilitate what in EMDR is called BLS). Emphasis is simply on casting and connecting to the environment, not actively trying to catch a fish unless you experience a hit via happenstance. Then, it becomes about accepting the wish with compassion and “letting it go”. It’s a bit of a different take on fly fishing and tenkara, as a person is not learning to sight fish - but to practice being present and accepting what shows up while processing a traumatic memory.

Also - EMDR is a phased process, and part of the phasing for this model includes becoming used to casting and building a relationship with the rod before even going near the water.

I like a lot of your other points. They are really making me think. Thank you!


@Jason_Seaward … Let’s be in touch! When are you doing your EMDR training and who will you train with? I am an EMDRIA Consultant-in-Training and offer EMDR consultation for folks who are learning EMDR, working toward certification, and also who want professional development. We could work together as you are learning EMDR and if you ever want to use these methods in your EMDR therapy, I can consult with you.

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@Kris.Franqui , PHW is a great organization.

Thanks for posting.

I personally believe that guided forest bathing would be a better approach.

Like the others, the first thing I thought of was project healing waters.

But I do wish you success.

If you haven’t heard of forest bathing, take a look.

Good luck.


I think it is an excellent idea. Anything to get people outside and become absorbed in something which takes their minds off their problems is the best medicine of all.


@Adam_Trahan - that’s so cool. Shinrin yoku (forest bathing) has definitely become something unique here in the US (and probably other western places). In Japan it really means about the same as when we say that we are going to nature to “breathe the fresh air”, etc (if someone from Japan is here and wants to correct me, go ahead), but I like that many people here in the west allow that concept to help themselves connect to a deep meditative place. My wife and I have thought about holding shinrin yoku events here in Vermont for people, also incorporating tea ceremonies - but that would probably be separate from anything like this. That said, the concept of forest bathing/shinrin yoku is a part of the tenkara and EMDR method (Seiyu-zuri) simply through the act of connecting to nature with the 5 senses.


@davidsr … thank you!

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I think you are on the right track with your practice.

It’s refreshing for sure.