Climbing as Therapy for a Therapist by Butora Athlete Gabe McKenzie

Climbing as Therapy for a Therapist by Butora Athlete Gabe McKenzie

I have been a climber for the past 14 years. I have had the sport with me through so many different chapters of life. As they do for everyone, these chapters have ranged from wildly beautiful to impossibly hard. Recently, I became a therapist. That is an identity that is far newer to me than a climber. Thinking about this blog post had me stumped for a long time. I felt I hadn’t gone on many wild climbing adventures recently and, given a series of injuries, felt that I had been on the mend for quite some time. It made me a bit sad to think about how far big climbing adventures have gone from my life this past year. I felt I didn’t have much to write until I had this idea.


I was a comp kid; I grew up spending all my free time in high school at the climbing gym with my friends. In college, I competed in the open and collegiate National Bouldering Series, coached my way through graduate school, and made time for climbing trips across the country and abroad. I have aged, and for a select few people, there is the chance to allow climbing to financially support them, thereby keeping the sport as close as we all did when we were little grommets wandering around the gym. Climbing is still a massive piece of my life and will be forever. I still make time to go to the gym, get outside, travel with friends, and dirtbag around. What has changed is that I have had to make room for other big identities to exist. Consequently, this has led to climbing not being able to take up quite as much space as it once did.


I still climb in the gym four days a week and often make time for at least one day a week to get outside on some real rock. However, my endless carefree hours at the climbing gym are now limited to a structured and shorter period that doesn’t leave as much time for wonderment. Unlike when I was a kid, I no longer envision making a name for myself in the competition world. I am still feeling the growing pains of this, and I think I am creating a new perspective on climbing and what it means for me. As I said earlier, I am a therapist, and while I am grateful to feel I have found a career that provides me with a sense of purpose and meaning, it is taxing work. Therapists often end up getting burned out and eventually leaving the profession.


Along with being a big part of my identity, climbing has always helped me get through the tricky bits of life. Naturally, I have been using climbing to manage my “hard bits” right now, which often revolve around not burning out. Only recently have I been intentionally thinking about climbing in this kind of way, and that is what I would like to talk about in this post.


Luckily, my therapy days are structured however I set them up. At first, simply due to building a client load, I had random chunks of free time during the workday, all of which I filled with climbing. It helped me release the emotional load therapy took from me, and it led me to feel recharged and ready for the second half of my therapy day. Now, my caseload is full, and I still keep those chunks of time open during the middle of the work day. I’ll typically see three clients, climb, and then see another three to four clients. That has been working pretty well for me.  


My flexible schedule is not the norm for most people. However, the sentiment I want to convey is that creating space for your outlet, whatever it might be, is vital. I know many people who let passions dwindle due to the flood of adulthood, and, dramatic or not, I see some light fade away from them. Even though the role climbing has in my life has evolved, I am grateful for the space it continues to hold. My message is this: keep your passions close, treat them like medicine for the soul, and you’ll have a better time.


A small side note is that my roommates and I recently made a home wall in our basement. It’s grimy, sketchy, and a haven for the four of us living there.  We have started having house sessions where we rage out on the wall and expel whatever demons have latched onto us. These sessions make us feel connected to the community and the body. So, I’ll add to my message from above–when you can, share your passions with the people you care about, and let what keeps you going be seen.