As a clinical social worker, I conduct most of the therapy sessions with clients in the traditional setting – my office. It’s a nice, cozy office, but is an office none the less. Another aspect of my therapy sessions is Walk & Talk therapy. This is where I meet with a client in a local park and we walk while conducting the therapy session. Getting outdoors really changes the dynamic of the session. Clients are more relaxed as being outdoors is familiar, rather than being in a therapy office. Taking four walls out of the equation helps clients open up and feel more comfortable. Often clients don’t have the opportunity to get outdoors as much as they would like. Sometimes this 45 minute walk is the only exercise of their day!
There is much evidence that walking helps the therapeutic process. In Thaddeus Kostrubala’s book, The Joy of Running, his hypothesis is that rhythmic exercise, such as walking, can be conducive to the process of self-discovery. Kate Hays, PhD, the author of Working It Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy, cites three key reasons for combining exercise and therapy: 1) It encourages a client to be more physically active for mental and physical reasons, 2) It helps a client get “unstuck” when confronting difficult issues, 3) It spurs creative, deeper ways of thinking often released by mood-improving physical activity. Because of the biochemical effects of being active, a client might be able to view a situation with more clarity, more insight, and make connections which she/he otherwise might not be able to.
Numerous scientific studies have shown the positive effects of exercise on the brain, especially for people with depression. Additionally, anxious or grief-stricken clients are also well served by walk & talk therapy. Grief can be so totally consuming and feel so heavy, being outdoors and accomplishing something positive for one’s health can provide a sense of aliveness. Clients who have difficulty with making eye contact often do better in walk & talk therapy because we are walking side-by-side, not staring at each other. Clients who are feeling trapped in a relationship or a job, or within themselves, will feel a “sense of freedom” with walk & talk therapy.
Now Walk & Talk therapy is not a strenuous workout. It is meant to be a casual, comfortable walk. If you are huffing and puffing you can’t really talk! Clients at all levels of fitness can benefit from fresh air and exercise when it comes to processing their feelings. Sometimes we take a break and sit at a picnic table or the swings. There are usually regular restrooms which are much nicer than port-a-potties. Walk & Talk therapy is done in all types of weather, but should the client not want to walk in the snow or rain, we go to my office. This is the client’s choice. There are birds, squirrels, ground squirrels, sometimes the sound of the river, and blue sky. How much more relaxing can it get?!
Sitting in an office is passive. Walking is literally moving ahead. Clients feel like they are moving forward in their issues. They can tackle things better and faster.
If this type of therapy interests you, please contact me. I’d be happy to discuss any questions you may have. Remember, wear good walking shoes!