Walk Talk Therapy

By: Lisa Philippart

My dogs, two big lab mixes, look forward to their daily walk. We have our route already mapped out, so while we don’t meander, I don’t have to focus my attention on where we are going. I can actually feel my brain becoming less distracted. My thoughts often go to problem dissection on both a small and grand scale. These walks become my time of self-reflection, creativity, and inspiration. It doesn’t take much of a leap to recognize the therapeutic connection between moving and talking.

Walk Talk Therapy is just like it sounds…the client and therapist are outside walking during the therapy session instead of sitting inside an office. In fact, many clients say that Walk Talk Therapy provides a more relaxed environment and encourages healthy activity. Research has consistently shown that exercise can significantly decrease anxiety and stress while improving overall mood. Walk Talk Therapy also allows for the pace of the session to be adapted to the need. For example, you may prefer a more meditative relaxing session of strolling to reduce stress versus an active fast-paced session of hiking to release feelings of anger or frustration.

While Walk Talk Therapy may not be for everyone, here are some tips to consider:

1. Keeping it confidential. Going for a walk means you may run into people who know you. Make sure you address this up front and figure out a strategy beforehand. You may agree to just stop talking until the person is out of earshot. Or you may just say ‘hi’ and keep moving on. You may also want to discuss the route you will be taking…through a park, in a neighborhood, in the woods, etc.

2. Maintain boundaries. When the body is involved with the mind in therapy, issues may arise related to power or sexuality. Men may try to compete, while women may negatively compare their athletic abilities. A discussion beforehand could include a reminder that the session is still psychotherapy, and the change in medium will hopefully be beneficial.

3. Get creative. Being outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the natural world metaphorically, therapeutically, and symbolically. Here’s a great example: Take a few moments to wander off alone and find an object that represents an issue you are working on. A rock may symbolize groundedness. A feather may signify the need to let go.

4. Attend to the conversation. Walking will alter the type of communication. Physically, you are next to each other, rather than more face to face, which can allow for more openness and disclosure, ability for insight, and even a potential “aha” moment. Conversely, going outside may promote avoidance. Walking for some may be distracting in a good way, and for others, prove to interfere with concentration.

5. More good news. Just being outdoors allows you to enjoy the benefits of exposure to natural light and movement. Even moderately-paced walking improves mood and reinforces the fact that we are not built to be sedentary. And, walking during therapy can encourage you to walk more frequently as you note the benefits physically and mentally.

Combining movement and therapy accomplishes at least one important goal: helping you to do two healthy things that you might otherswise put off doing. So get walking!

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed professional Counselor