Updated: May 3
Everyone knows that being out in the open is good for your health; no matter what situation you are in, nearly everyone says go for a walk to clear your head. More recently, scientists and psychologists have discovered that natural environments and being outdoors are shown to reduce stress, improve sleep and boost your wellbeing. This is where Walk and Talk Therapy comes in.
Walk and talk therapy is what it says on the tin. Instead of sitting in front of your counselor in a traditional therapy room, the counseling session takes place outdoors, walking side by side.
It is counseling in motion, and although it is not a fitness session, it is often more dynamic than a traditional indoor session. If you have felt stuck in therapy in the past, being physically active helps release some tensions and stimulates new thoughts and ideas. It is a metaphor for moving forward.
The act of walking and talking in the open air allows for a very different therapeutic experience. Some people feel able to speak more freely about their experiences. For others, being in a natural environment will help them connect differently with their emotions. And some love the fact that they have allowed themselves time to be outdoors.
It does not suit everyone, as many people prefer the counseling room's safe, cozy and private environment. But for those who feel constrained by the indoors or who feel they can open up more in a wide-open space while connecting with nature, walk and talk therapy is a great option.
So why does walking outdoors help when having counseling? We already know that any exercise can help reduce stress levels, depression, and anxiety. The mental health charity Mind carried out extensive research a few years ago, which showed how walking in the countryside could help reduce depression and anxiety. In their survey, they reported that 71% of respondents felt decreased depression and less tension after a "green" walk, while 90% felt their self-esteem increase after a country walk.
Therapist Geri Dube puts it succinctly: "When you are out walking, you're working from a position of health. Lying on a couch is what we do when we're sick."
Nature and Therapeutic Landscapes
The term 'therapeutic landscape' was initially coined by the geographer Wilbert M. Gesler in the early 1990s. It describes a natural area that can offer mental and spiritual healing. There is an argument that through this mental healing, therapeutic landscapes can help people to heal physically as well.
People need to have a sense of belonging in the world; a connection to nature allows them to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness (Berger & Mcleod, 2006). Despite the need to be connected, it can be argued that we are feeling more disconnected due to the advancements of technology and urban living. Being connected to nature provides a sense of belonging and connectedness as well as numerous mental health and cognitive benefits.
In another study supporting the mental health benefits of nature, Mayer et al. (2009) investigated the relationship of nature to wellbeing. The study aimed to answer the question, "why does nature produce beneficial effects?" Mayer et al. (2009) concluded that exposure to nature influences mood and cognition in a positive manner, as well as one’s attentional capacity and the ability to reflect on life problems (known as "reflection").
What are the Benefits of Stepping Away From the Therapist Couch?
This form of therapy works brilliantly for anxiety, depression, grief, work-related stress, anger issues, and addiction. Parents and schools are also tuning in to walking therapy; a real breakthrough has come with teenage pupils finding everyday life as a real struggle, but traditional therapy as a turn-off.
Apparent advantages to walking outdoors are that it is a multi-sensory experience, linked to higher levels of oxytocin, the 'feel-good' hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Walking also reduces blood pressure and encourages clients to exercise or at least spend more time outdoors. And natural scenery can trigger memories or thoughts about the past.
Walk and talk therapy could be advertised as a more healthful way to participate in therapy which may decrease the stigma associated with therapy. In addition, when clients are more relaxed, they may open up faster, which could foster the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client. And, if walking outdoors helps clients figure out problems better and speeds up therapy, clients could speed less time and money in therapy.
Good For All Ages
Walking and talking therapy is effective with people of all ages. Older clients who follow a gentle pace find being surrounded by nature very reassuring. At the same time, some teenage clients have found it an excellent alternative to being in the counseling room, as they have a sense of freedom and feel more able to unburden themselves.
It can be challenging to fit in a therapy session when you may need it most. For example, mothers with babies or toddlers who may have anxiety or postpartum depression often struggle to work a therapy session into their schedule. This is where Walk and Talk Therapy presents a solution. There's no worry about trying to keep the child happy while in a therapy room. Instead, walking outdoors, they're in the stroller, asleep or enjoying the fresh air.
Furthermore, many people might use their lunch hour to don their gym shoes, breathe in the fresh air, and walk with their therapist.
Disadvantages of Walk and Talk Therapy
A number of limitations of the walk and talk methods should be considered: weather conditions, lack of support from colleagues, and perceptions of clients. Additionally, limitations can consist of the physical condition of the client, confidentiality, and boundaries.
Physically, the therapist and the client need to be healthy enough to keep the pace during the sessions. In addition, because the session is outdoors, confidentiality can be a challenge depending on how many people are nearby.
Furthermore, according to Hays (1994), the client could confuse boundaries as the safe space of the office is gone. Clients may view the therapist as more of a buddy or a friend with whom they spend leisurely time.
How Can Disadvantages Be Handled?
Limitations and concerns in walking therapy are handled in similar ways to traditional treatment. For instance, if either the therapist or client is not well enough to run or walk, an indoor session can take place. Confidentiality issues related to being outdoors should be discussed prior to the onset of walking outdoors with clients. Boundary issues should be treated similarly to traditional therapy sessions. Overall, according to Hays (1994), a responsible therapist assesses the problems in the context of each case and reviews any issues as necessary with each client.
Is Walk And Talk Therapy Right for me?
As with all modes of treatment, consider your specific needs before opting for a walk-and-talk therapy session. For example, Walk-and-talk therapy may be an excellent option for people who experience excess energy or restlessness during sessions or those who feel uneasy when maintaining direct eye contact and sitting still.
Walk and talk therapy is particularly helpful for people feeling they are trapped in a life or roles that don't fit them anymore. Being outdoors and talking about their issues enhances the renewal of a sense of freedom. In addition, walking helps increase the blood flow to the brain, and new ideas to tackle our problems are more likely to come up. With the weather getting warmer, why not give it a try?
If you are interested in learning more about Walk and Talk Therapy options at Konick and Associates, contact our office at 630.206.4060 for more information. Or visit the Walk and Talk Therapy page on our website.