Walking is man’s best medicine – Hippocrates
Walk and Talk Therapy is exactly that, the therapist and the client walk and talk together during the therapy session.
I came across the benefits of walk and talk therapy just by accident. I was working with a young person who was experiencing severe anxiety and not able to go to school. We began working in their home but talking and opening up was really difficult – too intense and, with already overwhelming feelings of anxiety sitting and talking seemed unbearable. So we decided being active and talking might just help, so we played pool and talked, which was much better and somehow they seemed more at ease, laughing when I missed a shot or giving me advice on how to play better. We laughed and relaxed and so the work began. We both had dogs and shared a love of being outside and walking, one day we decided that it would be good to walk with the dog across the fields and so it began, our walking and talking sessions.
I find that being side by side means that clients don’t feel so exposed, vulnerable or awkward. Silence and space for thought feels more natural. The pressure to talk is reduced and the practice of just ‘being’ is somehow much more simple. Walking has a soothing element to it, perhaps very similar to being rocked by our care giver in our early years.
Mike Diamond of Imperial College Healthcare, NHS Trust explains:
“The natural, rhythmic, side-to-side motion, or bilateral movement caused by walking causes nerve impulses to cross back and forth between the left hemisphere (the thinking side of the brain) to the right hemisphere (the feeling part of the brain) which induces emotional and intellectual healing from issues such as trauma and stress.”
When walking with clients we become focused on our experience of being together, I am able to offer a safe listening space even though we are outside and may pass other walkers or runners. We may slow our pace when needed, pause the conversation when needed, speed up if needed or just sit. Working outside adds a depth to the therapy than can be harder to experience during traditional sitting therapy. Walking can reflect the emotions being experienced or the story being shared, we can walk hard and fast or soft and gentle which ever matches the situation or the needs of the client. Being outside also means we can observe the world around us, reminding us that the natural rhythm of life is reflected in it, perhaps we will notice new growth in spring, the beauty and warmth of good summer days and in autumn or winter the need for certain parts of life to wither and even die in order for something new to grow in its place. We can breathe in fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun or the fresh wind on our face, we feel energised and our mood is often boosted by these experiences.
We all know that a daily walk and exercise is good for our physical health, research shows that physical activity is also good for our minds. A Department of Health report (2011) states “Being active promotes mental health and well-being. It improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality and it reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue”
Researchers from the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands recently published a study in the Clinical Psychological Science (2018) which found that teenagers who took part in sport and exercise were more likely to be happier and less likely to display difficult behaviour like social withdrawal and anxiety, they were more likely to have positive self-image and greater self-esteem.
Exercise doesn’t have to come in the form of competitive sports but can be found in many forms, walking, cycling, yoga, dancing, and what we do know is that we often feel so much better after exercising than we did before.
I love to walk and personally find walking each day helps lift my daily stresses. An early morning walk with my dogs brightens my day and wakes me up ready to face each day anew. I also find that walking outside in nature and experiencing the world around me is a healing and spiritual experience I can breathe in all that I see and breathe out the busyness of life.
Being able to incorporate my love of walking and belief in counselling in ‘Walk and Talk therapy’ made perfect sense to me, as I know how personally healing walking is for me. My clients have found this a very helpful way of being able to explore their thoughts and emotions with the added benefit of being able to move physically in surroundings that are neutral and natural.
Toronto psychologist Dr. Kate Hays, author of “Working It Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy,” said the method has “a potential for much more openness and disclosure, capacity for insight, the ‘aha’ moments that we know are facilitated by physical activity.”
Phil Gormley– walk and talk therapy
Walking Your Blues Away, Thom Hartmann
Working it Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy, Dr Kate Hays