Travel and Service: Therapy for the Soul?

(Disclaimer:  We are NOT providing advice about mental health treatment!)

I’m a Psychology professor with clinical training, and A is a Licensed Master Social Worker.  Both of us have had experience working with people with mental illness and individuals from various walks of life.  Traditionally, treatment for depression (as an example) focuses on either the biomedical and/or the psychotherapeutic approaches.  Those are typical approaches that a clinician would recommend, and are very effective for many people.

As part of your personal wellness program, have you considered travel?  What about service work? Many people see these activities as mutually exclusive, but we know, from our experience (including service projects with college students), how transforming travel and service can be together. We’ve taken students on service projects to New Orleans -post Katrina, as well as to Mexico border towns (when the violence wasn’t as crazy as now), and our lives, and our students’, were changed forever.

M Volunteering - Pre- Mexico Medical Mission Prep 2007
Outdoor Crisis Counseling- Reynosa, Mexico 2008

Read more about our Mexico Medical Mission Adventures.

Student volunteers - Mexico Medical Mission 2008

Conventional wisdom tells us that we act according to our emotions and beliefs, butSocial Psychologists have known for years that our actions can create a change in our attitudes and beliefs.  We can literally ‘act our way into feeling and believing.’   Research has demonstrated that mood can be improved by helping others. Given this premise, we don’t have to sell someone the benefits of travel and service, but to merely get them involved, to try it out.  The act of meeting new people in new places, and doing meaningful service work, can transform how one feels about themselves and even their direction in life.  For example, one of my students who was pursuing a nursing career, now knows specifically that she wants to pursue pediatric nursing, because of her Mexico service experience working with children.

Home Gutting Post Katrina, New Orleans -Thanksgiving 2006
Home Gutting Post Katrina, New Orleans - Thanksgiving 2006

Read about our Service Learning projects in New Orleans.

Grief Counseling for Grandma who lost her daughter Reynosa, Mexico 2007

If you’ve been following our blog, you know that we’re relocating to Chiang Mai, Thailand later this year.  We plan to participate in  service work, and set up service learning projects with local programs there.  We hope to partner with colleges/universities to help set up service learning projects for students.

“It turns out that giving- far more than receiving- is a surprisingly potent force whose impact reverberates across an entire lifetime, nourishing health and happiness in astonishing ways.” Stephen Post

Travel and service are integral parts of our lives, and we think of them as part of our family’s wellness program.  Are they part of yours?

We Say NO to Status Quo.

Live Small.  Live Green.  Give Large.  Take Little.

Take Notice.  Take Action.


12 thoughts on “Travel and Service: Therapy for the Soul?

  1. J, I had the privilege of meeting A during her latest trip to Thailand. Exciting time for the family, eh? Hope you guys are having a smooth transition and let me know if there’s anything I or my wife can do or if you have any questions with your move. Cheers, Ray

    1. Ray,
      A had so many nice things to say about you! Can’t wait to meet you and all the friendly tweeps that are either in Thailand, or traveling through it… Summer can’t arrive soon enough, but I need to focus on the present and not just focus on the near future.. tough balance.

  2. Great post J. Your concept reminds me of Dr. O’Connor’s book “Undoing Depression”.

    I never considered the travel aspect before, but I know that when I travel and I’m typically more excited/happy than usual and also very focused on navigating the new terrain. These feelings and focus don’t leave a lot of room for the darkness to creep in.

    1. Kathleen,
      Thanks for dropping by! I’m sure travel isn’t for everyone, due to personality or life circumstances, but I do believe that everyone can serve in some capacity.

  3. As a recovering alcoholic, I know that this is a technique taught by 12-step programs. I have used it many times to my benefit. Whenever I am feeling sorry for myself, down, or depressed, the best thing I can do is help another person. Works every time – you’re right on the money

    1. Barbara,
      Thanks for sharing your story of recovery. It takes great courage and perseverance to recover from any addiction.
      Take care!

  4. Wonderful post! I agree that service work and travel can have a transformational effect – I’m in Guatemala and I definitely plan to do some volunteer work in the coming weeks 🙂

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