Although most people don’t think of archery as therapy, it has proven benefits for those struggling with addiction and mental health disorders. One doesn’t have to be an elite athlete to participate because programs are customized to the client’s abilities. Many archers describe a therapeutic feeling after a good session, whether they are competitive or recreational archers.
Unlike some sports, archery does not push your body to the breaking point. It doesn’t significantly increase adrenaline levels nor unduly sap the brain of oxygen or carbohydrates. Rather, practicing archery instills a calm and meditative state in much the same way as yoga, mindfulness therapy or meditation. The group dynamic provides clients with a sense of camaraderie and support. Practicing in small groups enables clients to share struggles and master breakthroughs together, thereby delivering similar benefits as experiential therapies.
Archery helps clients “let go” of difficult past experiences and destructive behavioral patterns. During shooting practice, metaphors are drawn between the activity and events and feelings. Archery not only strengthens the body, but also sharpens the mind. Aiming carefully at the target requires focused concentration and slow, regulated breathing, which helps individuals block out distracting thoughts and painful emotions.
Archery is especially helpful for people struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Glenn French, a veteran who battled PTSD, explained the benefits of archery as follows. “Archery requires many attributes that soldiering demands, such as discipline, focus, frequent training, fitness and clarity of the mind for absolute situational awareness. As the archer develops his or her skills, the constant desire to succeed takes a hold of the Warrior and the journey that never ends begins.”
Archery has helped people recover from depression. Louise Redman, an Australian champion archer, first turned to the sport to battle postnatal depression (PND). Redman began training seriously in 2013, following the birth of her second child. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, I wanted to be in the deep end and it really snapped me out of PND,” Redman said. Now Redman encourages other new mothers struggling with PND to participate in the sport.
This form of therapy combines the physical activity of archery with its metaphorical impact, addressing clients’ specific emotional needs and mindsets around the patterns they’ve created through addictions. Archery also enables individuals to stay in the present and encourages consistency, both of which are crucial to recovery. Archery has considerable physical benefits including muscle strengthening and conditioning and improved balance and hand-eye coordination. Emotional and psychological benefits include: