Travel as Therapy

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Travel: how can it heal you?

summer travel

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PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

It is officially summer in the northern hemisphere, the season for summer vacation travel.

My wife and I are on vacation in Manhattan. Actually, perhaps we are on an ongoing vacation of sorts since I retired from my formal psychiatric clinical and administrative work a dozen years ago. Usually, nonprofessional travel is considered as a vacation in the sense of a getaway from the routine. Perhaps it can be more than that. It can be part of psychiatry. Travel can perhaps be therapeutic.

Travel can also be part of a new focus in psychiatry called lifestyle psychiatry.1 Lifestyle psychiatry is the theme of the 2025 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting. The Wall Street Journal has long had a section on Lifestyle in their daily paper, and Travel is one of the subsections.

Taking travel as a therapeutic lifestyle connects the 2 threads. This sort of focus has been developed over recent years by the School of Life, an organization begun in England in 2016 and now global. Its goal has been to translate mental health principles into everyday life. I think they have done that remarkably well, and in a way that is easy enough for the public to understand and appreciate, but with some sophistication.

Therapeutic travel means to consciously pick a destination that is likely to inspire and enchant in a way that enhances well-being, maybe even be healing. In one of products of the School of Life, A Therapeutic Atlas, images of particular places, also accompanied by short essays, illustrate the potential places that can liberate our minds in different ways.2 This atlas can be read in conjunction with planned travel, afterwords, or I suppose, even to review past travel with a new perspective. Although most of the places in the book may seem exotic, really, the travel can also be staycations at home.

In the section of the atlas on Holidays, I found the Nightclubs on pages 54-55. I was attracted to that because it is in Manhattan—where we have headed. The time in the book is 1978, with an image of the infamous Studio 54, with the statement:

“It can take serious pain before we learn to dance with true silliness.”

I think that I have learned over the years, or at least have been told, that I can dance pretty silly. My wife and I never went to such clubs, but instead jazz clubs which do not often include dancing. Just the music. By you can jive and bob around in your seat, and be swept away with the healing force of music in a connected and collective multicultural audience.

We are planning to go to a special place and event, billed as New York’s biggest, which I likely will cover in the next column. A hint: maybe it has something to do with one of my favorite songs and pictures of Rusti and I dancing, titled “Dancing to the End of Love,” after the song of that name by Leonard Cohen.

Sort of accompanying the book is a set of Travel Therapy cards, designed to “deepen and transform the experience of travel.” The first is “What is this destination trying—in its way—to teach you?” A later card is: “How could you change your life in some way because of what you have seen here?” Rusti and I may also share some of our answers.

Perhaps you or your patients have had some therapeutic travel. If so, please let us know.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

References

1. Noordsy D, ed. Lifestyle Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association Publishing; 2019.

2. A Therapeutic Atlas. The School of Life; 2023.

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