Waves of GriefTM
Waves of Grief programs are grounded in somatic and eco therapy based modalities and constructivist loss theories to address and support individuals moving through grief. The ocean provides a unique opportunity to address collective and personal grief in a non-traditional therapeutic setting. Our programs provide a natural space to gather in community and honor loss while interacting with the ocean as appropriate.
Waves of GriefTM aims to foster a sense of community, connection and comfort while creating new meaningful experiences in integrated grief in at the ocean’s shores. The hope is that those who opt into Waves of Grief TM create their own sustainable therapeutic process in nature that is held and supported by the community fostered in the program. Waves of Grief became one of the world’s very first ocean community-based support organizations to reduce loneliness and isolation in grief during COVID-19’s early, most traumatic days. Led by Kelsey Ellis and Dana Marie Ahmed (Nielsen) of Wild Women Therapy our stories were featured in National Geographic’s documentary “Impact”, where Kelsey told her personal story of the loss of her twin sister. Impact is currently featured on the National Geographic channel and Disney + in 142 countries and 78 languages.
In 2022 Waves of Grief became their own entity to create a more inclusive and accessible model of care, while honoring their roots at Groundswell Community Project and SD Pain & Trauma Institute. Since 2020 Waves of Grief programs have been funded by the Audrey Marie Ellis Foundation, we have since grown the offerings of Waves of Grief, calling in heart work and meaning after loss.
Waves of Grief was sought after by the US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, and presented at International Surf Therapy 2022 Conference. Now with 9 sites and partners, in community we continue to offer accessible surf therapy programs to support individuals and communities moving through grief and loss. To find meaning in order to keep leaning into the world after loss, to keep moving waves of grief through the psyches of our bodies, and to integrate it.
Kelsey Ellis, MA CCLS
Kelsey is a certified child life specialist, surf therapy provider and grief counselor. Her background lies in facilitating expressive therapeutic programs for trauma recovery. She is the Program Director for Josie's Place, which provides peer support for grieving youth in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Collectively her professional and personal experiences have further fueled her passion for fostering community connection through creative programing. In March of 2020 Kelsey unexpectedly lost her twin sister to Covid19 complications. In response to her personal waves of grief, and solace found found in the ocean she began leading Waves of Grief surf therapy support groups.
In 2020 National Geographic & Gal Gadot selected Kelsey to share her grief journey and healing found through surf therapy in IMPACT. The documentary shorts series is about six young women who are making an extraordinary impact around the world.
Kelsey is a proud recipient of the Jefferson Award for creating change in her community through Waves of Grief. Most recently Kelsey was sought out to facilitate a Waves of Grief program for the US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and his team.
Kelsey truly believes that healing can be found through authentic expression, community engagement, and connection to nature. "“The cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat or the Sea.” - Isak Dinesen
Michelle Q. Slavik
When Michelle Q. Slavik takes her surfboard into the water, she does it for herself, she does it for her boys in honor of her late husband, and she does it for others who are grieving their loss.
Michelle is a surf therapy provider and a Director of Clinical Operations Excellence at Global Blood Therapeutics (now Pfizer) with a background in building infrastructure and integrating systems to deliver much needed medicine to underserved communities. She has been facilitating Waves of Grief since participating in the National Geographic Series, Impact. Michelle joined Kelsey on the inaugural Bay Area team and later that year, extended Waves of Grief into the workplace and onto a virtual shore at her Biotech company - where her passion continues to drive awareness into cultures breaking down stigma surrounding mental health.
Most recently Michelle supported Waves of Grief programming for US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surf therapy community at ISTO (International Surf Therapy Organization), and expanded community in Ventura, CA with Anna Cho of Hydrotheory, where she currently serves as a board member.
Michelle's professional and personal experiences have aligned with her passion for healing, rekindling a sacred relationship to nature, and creating communities supportive of loss and trauma in blue spaces, like the ocean's shore.
"Growing safe spaces for this language of grief and loss is the honor I can pay back to those we love."
"Plus it's easier to tap in to your heart space when you are in nature." Michelle says. "Nature mirrors and reweaves the space to heal."
Anna Selena Cho, PsyD, LMFT, ATR
“The ocean provides me an essential connection to the earth and helps repair repeatedly my own mental health, wherein I channel and resource learning concepts to those I have the privilege to help.”
Anna is overseeing the clinical crew within Waves of Grief Collective (Northern California) and Hydro Theory Inc. (Southern California). She is clinically trained as a surf therapy provider, and pursues her academic teaching methods in private practice and community mental health.
Dr. Cho is an adjunct professor at California Lutheran University teaching Group Dynamics and Cultural Diversity and is passionate in the cultural, spiritual, and transformational concepts surrounding mental health, and accessibility of resources for communities in lack of support. She focuses on children families and individuals to help pursue their integration and alignment towards self development towards full potential and capacity.
Her training and professional development has guided her towards utilizing resources from Nature-based and Creative modalities to ensure easily learned and grasped concepts for individuals and clinicians, an essential factor upon the pandemic’s prolonged universal stress.
She has designed Art Therapy programs for intensive outpatient programs including Roots Through Recovery (Long Beach, CA) and Community West (for teens and young adults) and has spoken on the topic of Creativity and Healing to clinical sites including the UCLA Social Work Caucus and Santa Monica Family Services. Her diverse history of training including diagnostic evaluations for children at Reiss Davis Child Study Center and adults at PCH Treatment Center, and Expressive Arts practice inform her work in and around the ocean to better serve her clients integrate their lives into knowing.
Anna is a proud single mother of a 13-year old grom and believes that parallel process of new learning is essential for attunement and connection, achieving her black belt in Taekwondo together with her son. She has shadowed his surf career and learned alongside him to heal and grow together with Mother Ocean for the past decade; she can be found most mornings surfing to prepare and enrich her life.
Waves of Gratitude
Many organizations and individuals have helped in the creation of Waves of Grief Collective — it is certainly not a solo effort. We accept suggestions from our community and that is a huge part of how we strive to achieve accuracy and sensitivity in our portrayal of the evolution of our journey in surf therapy and stories in grief.
That being said, there are a few organizations and individuals who deserve special mention:
amelia waliany, amy schuman lynch, astrid kotila, audrey ellis, blake slavik, dana marie ahmed (nielsen), erica edwards, groundswell community project, gail valpreda slavik, jane frazier, janine ellis, kris primacio, meghan hanebutt, monica kotila, mylah de la rosa, elizabeth guzman, elsa rivera, joanne queano, lara buros, lucas slavik, scott ellis, tiffany refuerzo, veronica ortiz, xavier slavik, our 2022 mermaids: alex greenwald, gaia pazienti, jenny huang, kacey dodd, kianna miller, misia bruski, sandy worm, suzanne
and the global collective