Professor Studies Link Between Fly-Fishing as Therapy and Treatment for Combat-Related PTSD
Tony Parmenter, adjunct professor in the College of Arts & Sciences at Bellevue University, published a paper last month titled “Treating Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder using Therapeutic Fly-Fishing with EMDR” in the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health.
This is the first official and published integration of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) with a form of fly-fishing, and a serious call for integrating nature-based interventions into EMDR therapy, he said.
Parmenter, a licensed mental health professional, first became interested in treating PTSD after serving in the military and then helping service members on an English-speaking crisis telephone line in Japan, and while completing his undergraduate degree with Bellevue University.
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science from Bellevue University in 2009, he returned to the States to complete a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Antioch University New England in 2012.
In 2020, he founded Seiyu Institute for Health & Training – a psychotherapy and trauma consultation practice based in southeastern Vermont – which he operated while working full time for the State of Vermont. Because of the pandemic, Parmenter was forced to work remotely out of his barn, oftentimes putting in over 65 hours a week which was hard on his mental health, he said.
“Being inside so much was really getting to me, and I felt like it was more important than ever to get outside,” Parmenter said. “I was reminded of my great experiences of fly-fishing when I worked in a PTSD treatment program for uniformed service professionals a few years back. Plus I live near a river, so I thought I’d give fly-fishing another try.”
Parmenter uses a specific type of fly-fishing called Tenkara, which uses a fixed line attached to a fishing rod, without a reel or any other moving parts. It was out on the river when he realized the process of fly-fishing has similarities to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of trauma and other disturbing life experiences. Parmenter trained in EMDR after working as a professional counselor for some years. He is now a Certified EMDR Therapist and professional consultant with the EMDR International Association and the Parnell Institute for Attachment-Focused EMDR.
After spending some time on the river fly-fishing and doing EMDR, Parmenter decided to write the paper as a way to document it for himself. It was during his research when he learned that while therapeutic fly-fishing programs exist, none appear to use trained mental health professionals even though most focus on treating issues related to trauma. He also realized that even though therapeutic fly-fishing programs are researched, the literature only focused on the use of fly-fishing as an adjunctive activity for mental health care – fly-fishing simply done as usual, and not as a form of treatment itself. Parmenter submitted the paper to the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health upon realizing that his approach was unique.
“The benefit of using therapeutic fly-fishing, or another nature-based activity, is that it lets you do counseling or therapy outside of the office in a way that allows it to be a more authentic and engaging process for people,” Parmenter said. “Clients also learn to do a safe activity that they can do when not in therapy. My hope is that as they continue to go fishing and spend time outdoors, it will allow any healing that is happening to continue taking place naturally.”