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CoLiberate Is Wellington's New Mental Health Gym

No ordinary gym; this new space provides a workout for your mind through creative movement, reflective writing and clay touching.
By Sarah Arnold-Hall
March 20, 2018
By Sarah Arnold-Hall
March 20, 2018

Sarah Tuck is one of the minds behind CoLiberate, a new gym in Wellington driving a movement to make mental health cool. With a background in theatre, Sarah's drive is to translate the emotional wellness skills prominent in theatre to the everyday world. She nurtured the growth of this movement from its small beginnings and continues to champion it with great passion over two years later. She believes that everyone should have access to mental health care, because what the world really needs is a wellness revolution. We sat down with Sarah to discover more about CoLiberate.cp-line

What inspired the creation of CoLiberate?

We began evolving CoLiberate two years ago when we were full time artists building community through theatre projects. We realised that while the arts industry is struggling in many ways, it does have an under-utilized strength; highly developed processes for self care. As theatre-makers, the most important part of our work is preparing people to feel mentally capable, by building self-esteem, generating purpose, enabling people to be most powerfully and authentically themselves.  We recognize now that our work in theatre has been an evolutionary prototype in building mental wellbeing in a range of individuals — and better still, building a sense of pride in doing what it takes to look after your wellbeing while simultaneously doing your best work.

Our mission was to take 'self care' out of the niche 'arty-spiritual' realm and make it gritty, grounded and available to the mainstream. We're generating the equivalent of a gym culture for mental health, so that everyday people, even non-creatives, heck, even your average Kiwi bloke can do a workout for his mind, and develop a proactive relationship with his mental health!

What are the foundations and values that CoLiberate was built on?

We turn up to our place of work exactly how we are and can expect to be met where we are without judgment or discrimination.

If we factor the core values and intentions of being bold, empathizing, being open and collaborating kindly, into everything we do, then we can feel solid in knowing we are representing ourselves well and looking after ourselves at the same time!

We wholeheartedly believe that our people and our well being come first before our to-do list. There is always time for a conversation. There is always time for our baggage. There is always time to help each other feel our best, so we can continue to do our best work. We are not interested in buying into a burn-out culture that glorifies high stress and puts productivity before our self worth. We really believe this foundation has contributed significantly to our success.

Can you walk us through a typical gym session?

We believe the CoLiberate Studio is a retreat within the chaos that is the CBD! You arrive into a safe space, decorated with nourishing plants and colours. You can expect to be greeted and invited to have a cup of tea, then take a moment to find some space to ground, connect with other friendly faces, do a bit of colouring, and maybe eat some snacks.

The CoLiberate facilitator then calls the group to 'our opportunity space', the area where we go to be real, to jump right into an emotional workout. It might be reflective writing, answering a provoking question after some focusing breaths, a space to feel safe to be alone around others, or taking on a more sensory experience by settling into a meditation while you play with clay. We also have yoga session and creative movement, which allows members to connect with their bodies and generate ease, flow and play.

Can you describe who the gym is for?

The gym is for anyone who wants to actively engage with emotional and mental health. You don't have to declare how you feel or your experiences when you arrive, you can just come as you are and expect to be treated with unconditional positive regard.

Do you think Kiwi's tend to value physical health more than mental health? Why?

Yes, absolutely. If you look around Wellington city, there are at least 50 gyms and fitness centres in the CBD. There is a solid built-up infrastructure, making it so easy to access ways to value your physical health. It's almost stigmatised not to have a fitness practice. Can you imagine if we reinforced mental health with this same infrastructure?

For so long, New Zealanders haven't felt confident to talk to people about our mental health, so we are far behind. Mental illness and distress can't always be seen, which means discrimination plays a huge role in people avoiding or not knowing how to ask or receive appropriate help.

CoLiberate is the kid on the block, boldly sending the new message that self care isn't selfish. It's cool! Just like CrossFit and kombucha. We are generating a new market. Applying the 'harder, better, faster, stronger' attitude that has people hooked on the gym.

How can CoLiberate help us as a community?

Isolation and helplessness are inherent in many mental health challenges. Having somewhere to go, someone to talk to, a safe space to learn about this complex and elusive thing called our own mental health already relieves so much 'stuckness'. That's the easy part! CoLiberate cuts through the 'there's something wrong with me' attitude, rigorously reinforcing an alternative belief: that it's absolutely normal, not weak or selfish or weird, to need to take some time out to look after yourself, and that it's even something we can do pro-actively when we are feeling great!

We are one of the national providers of Aotearoa/New Zealand's Mental Health First Aid Certificate. It's just like your regular first-aid certificate, in the sense that you're trained with the skills that might one day save a life, and it's different because it's a well-held, safe space to really explore the completely of responding and support mental health challenges.

In the future, I want to see every single workplace equipped with Mental Health First Aid as a part of their Health and Safety work policy, just like we do with physical first aid.

For more information about CoLiberate, visit

Published on March 20, 2018 by Sarah Arnold-Hall


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