Excited to combine her passion for cooking with her career, social worker Julie Ohana founded a practice focused on culinary art therapy. Now she is turning the kitchen into a place for revelations and rejuvenation.…
I fondly remember sitting in front of the oven, eagerly waiting for my mother and grandmother’s delicious meals to appear. As I got older, I discovered how powerful these experiences were—the moments we shared over homemade food.
In graduate school I wrote my master’s thesis on the therapeutic value of cooking. After earning my degree in social work, I began exploring how to combine that nurturing time with mindfulness, leading to the founding of my culinary art therapy practice in Michigan.
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As a therapist of this nature, I use cooking to work with people on skills such as building confidence and regulating anxiety. When I let clients on board, I have them fill out a traditional intake form, where I learn about their history and what brings them to me. We also talk about the foods they like to eat, their cooking experiences, and any dietary allergies.
Then each session starts in the same way. Together we make a recipe based on the culinary competence of the customer and what he or she wants. What happens next really depends on the person and what they want to work on. Some come to me for weekly sessions; others prefer a once-in-a-lifetime experience, alone or with the family. We cover a range of topics from relationship issues to depression management.
Every session always has an aha moment.
Some people like to make quick dips, and others are excited to dive into baking bread. And while the goal is to cook the full recipe, this isn’t our end goal. This creative practice, such as art or music therapy, focuses on the intention of mindfulness. It’s not about the destination (or the finished dish), it’s about the steps we take to get there.
I’m a big believer in talk therapy, but I’ve found that when sessions come into the kitchen, things move at a faster pace. Chopping onions, simmering sauces, tasting what they’ve made… people achieve personal revelations faster. Cooking provides instant gratification as you work your way through a recipe.
I have seen people come to immediate realizations about frustrations, patterns and behavior when therapy meets, for example by stirring a pot of soup. That’s what it’s all about for me. These moments of recognition can take much longer with traditional forms of therapy.
I love that the kitchen gives people the opportunity to recognize opportunities for change in their lives. I hope it continues to provide my clients with moments of mindfulness, just as it has always done for me.
Stop, chop and breathe.
You don’t have to prepare a six-course meal to be more aware at your counter. Just make it a point to spend, say, 20 minutes (undisturbed!) chopping fresh vegetables to make a salad. While you’re at it, watch the process. Really. Pause your notifications. Turn off the TV. Meal prepping, when you attend, is an absolutely incredible, powerful experience, Ohana says.
Hungry for more?
Sign up for a session with Julie at culinairekunsttherapie.com— she offers virtual appointments!
This article originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of Women’s Health
Becca Miller (she/her) has been working in the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen since 2018, researching and writing about tasty recipes, food trends and top cooking tools. She graduated from NYU with a liberal arts degree focused on creative writing. She makes killer scrambled eggs, enjoys a glass of oak-less chardonnay, and takes pride in her love of reality television.