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Culinary Therapy

Cooking Believed to Have 
De-stressing and Therapeutic Effects

By Amanda Salazar



At the end of a long day at work, some people want nothing more than to order some takeout and eat dinner on the couch. Another breed of people, however, who look forward to cooking a meal when they get home. 
   For some, cooking isn’t a chore but something soothing, de-stressing, and creative. It can be fun to try new recipes or calming to work one step at a time. Ending up with a successful dish can bring people a sense of accomplishment and pride. 
   As a result, some therapists are starting to look at cooking as a new tool to use during counseling, thus coining the term “culinary therapy.” 
   It’s not a widespread concept right now, but mental health clinician and University of Colorado Denver Assistant Vice Chancellor for Graduate Education Michael Kocet. PhD said he hopes that one day, it will be an established practice. 
   “I refer to cooking or culinary therapy as using cooking in relationship with food to address people’s emotional and psychological issues, either with individuals, families or groups,” Kocet, who was the first to teach about culinary therapy at a university, told Preferred Health Magazine. “Food looks at the relationship between psychology and emotional well-being and functioning.” 



In theory, a culinary therapist would have a kitchen facility in their office or would give their clients cooking assignments that the client would then report back on. Having a therapist enter a client’s home to work in their kitchen could stir up ethical questions, so it likely wouldn’t be the preferred method. 
   Kocet said there are a number of ways that cooking can be therapeutic. It can be helpful to teach people recovering from eating disorders what a healthy relationship with food is and how to properly feed themselves. For people dealing with grief and loss, cooking can be a way to connect with those who've passed, such as by making a deceased loved one's recipes.  
   In other situations, cooking can encourage people to take risks with different dishes and methods. Cooking can also give people a sense of control over something amid an uncontrollable world. 

  “I think where cooking can be therapeutic is, for example, whether in one’s personal life or work life or other things, maybe someone’s going through a stressful time, maybe they feel like that they don’t have a sense of agency or effect,” Kocet said. “But they can come home, and they can make a loaf of bread or a leg of lamb or a roast chicken and maybe they regain a sense of accomplishment. Like, ‘Okay, maybe in my personal relationships, I don’t feel much in control or like I have a lot of say over what happens, but I can influence this recipe or this dish that I’m making.’” 
   Even professional chefs glean some kind of therapeutic effects from cooking. Food artist and television chef Jonathan Scinto of New York told Preferred Health Magazine that cooking puts him in a good mental state whether it’s on TV or in a more laid-back atmosphere. 


“It helps you think outside the box,” said the host of "Family Kitchen Revivial," a show about bringing people together over a dinner table, airing on Amazon Prime. “I get to create different recipes and try new ingredients. And it kind of takes me to another destination when I’m cooking. I’ll picture myself in Bali somewhere when I’m cooking because I do a lot of Asian and Thai cuisine, and I’ll picture myself in Tuscany and I’ll be thinking about what it’s like to be in those countries as I’m cooking. It puts you in a different mental state.” 
   This still rings true for Scinto’s competitive cooking. Instead of feeling stressful, the atmosphere gives him “a natural high,” 
and can feel cathartic and exciting. 
   Culinary therapy is not yet a formally accepted form of treatment like art and play therapies are. Kocet said that more research needs to be done into how cooking therapy can progress. 

Jonathan Scinto

Jonathan Scinto is Food Artist, TV Host, Creator and host of the hit Prime Video TV series, "Family Kitchen Revival."

He has appeared on TV shows like Food Network "Chopped", FOX's MasterChef 6 and several other networks like ABC, NBC and CBS. The Food Network Hand-picked Chef Jonathan to compete in "Iron Chef Showdown": Battle Autumn Bounty the live version hosted by Alton Brown.

Michael M. Kocet, Ph.D. is Assistant Vice Chancellor for Graduate Education and Professor of Counseling at the University of Colorado Denver. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (MA), a Board Certified Counselor, and an Approved Clinical Supervisor. His professional areas of interest include: ethical issues in counseling; counseling LGBTQ+ clients; grief counseling, and is author of numerous journal articles and book chapters on ethics, LGBTQ and diversity issues.

Michael Kocet, PhD
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