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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Some counselors, treating patients with issues such as stress, anxiety and depression, are turning to cooking classes to help them cope with mental health problems.

The cooking classes can help patients not only feed their body—but nourish the mind simultaneously.

Cathy Ramirez is finding comfort in cooking after three strokes sent her into a major depression. She takes classes where creating a meal, and enjoying it with her classmates, is helping soothe her stress.

“It makes you feel good inside to accomplish something,” said Ramirez.

‘Feeling accomplished’ is exactly the goal: building self-esteem and curbing negative thinking by focusing the mind on making a meal. But sometimes, whether knowingly or not, making a meal is not the only thing they are doing.

“Learning a skill and getting a sense of competence, competence motivation we call it in psychology, or another term is self-efficacy, the feeling that you can do something and do it well, is enormously important,” said Frank Farley, former President of the American Psychological Association.

Culinary therapy is being offered alongside traditional therapy at a growing number of healthcare facilities from coast to coast, helping patients from their teens to their senior years. It can help with many mental wellness issues, according to experts.

“One of the facets of depression is the loss of interest in everyday things. Apathy, so here you’re trying to get them involved in something that’s intrinsically interesting,” said Farley.

Helen Tafoya oversees cooking classes at a rehabilitation center.

“What we find in recovery is success builds on success, so if somebody has success in making a simple gravy, and you can get them to make a more complicated macaroni and cheese, or some enchilada casserole, or something like that, they’re building a success upon a success. It increases self-esteem,” Tafoya said.

Tafoya has seen that cooking can offer a great distraction, allowing people to open up in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.

“Someone might be making a gravy, making a casserole, chopping vegetables, and as soon as their hands get busy, and they start getting involved in the food preparation, something might come up, a memory, or an experience and they start talking about that, and someone else says a similar thing happened to me and before you know it, people who are pretty shut down in traditional therapy sessions are really talking fairly openly about things that are very important to them,” Tafoya said.

The various components combine—much like ingredients—to create the perfect recipe. Ramirez said her cooking class feeds her mind, body and soul.

“It’s a place of comfort,” Ramirez said.

With the cooking classes there is concern about weight gain. If cooking is used to treat mental health, it’s stressed that the lessons involve healthy options as well as portion control.

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