Walk and Talk Therapy is an approach to traditional talk therapy where the therapist and client take their session outdoors and walk together while discussing the client’s issues. This type of therapy is becoming increasingly popular and provides similar benefits to those found in mindfulness, physical activity, ecotherapy, and more traditional psychotherapy.
Benefits of Walk and Talk Therapy:
Some of the benefits include:
- Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Walking is a proven stress reliever and can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters that help to alleviate stress and anxiety. When you combine walking with talking about your feelings, you get a powerful combination that can significantly reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
- Moving Forward: Taking a walk with your therapist can help shift the focus towards moving forward; this added movement and momentum can help in getting unstuck. Walking can also provide a natural rhythm to the conversation, making it easier to stay on topic and keep the conversation flowing.
- Bilateral Stimulation: Bilateral stimulation is any method of stimulating the body and brain in a rhythmic right-left pattern. It is often used in therapeutic settings (such as in EMDR therapy) to help reduce the symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Bilateral stimulation can help regulate the brain’s response to stress and trauma, promote a sense of relaxation and well-being, and allow for the processing of emotions and memories previously stuck in the nervous system. Walking is a simple form of bilateral stimulation, stimulating and balancing the right and left brain. (EMDR founder Francine Shapiro was taking a walk in the park when she first realized the potential benefits bilateral stimulation could have on the nervous system.)
- Supplemental Health Benefits: Walking is a low-impact exercise that is beneficial for both physical and mental health. When you participate in Walk and Talk Therapy, you get the added benefit of exercising while working on your mental health.
- Healing through Nature: Spending time in nature is linked with many physical and mental health benefits, including decreased depression, decreased stress and anxiety, improved ADHD symptoms, increased focus, improved sleep, and improved overall well-being. (For more research, see parkrxamerica.org’s Benefits of Nature page.)
Risks of Walk and Talk Therapy
Like any form of therapy, Walk and Talk Therapy carries some risks. Here are a few things to consider:
- Safety Concerns: Being outdoors has inherent safety risks, such as from a sunburn, bug bites, or other injury. If you’re walking in a park or other public space, be aware of potential hazards such as uneven terrain, traffic, or other people.
- Weather Conditions: Walk and Talk Therapy sessions are subject to the weather. If it is too hot, too cold, or too wet, it may be uncomfortable or even unsafe to continue the session. Consider having a backup plan (such as telehealth) and be ready to communicate with your therapist concerning any last minute changes.
- Distractions: Walking in a public space can be distracting, with other people, animals, or vehicles around. These distractions can make it difficult to focus on the therapy session and may reduce its effectiveness.
- Confidentiality Concerns: Walking in a public space may make it more difficult to maintain confidentiality. While therapists will continue to take measures to protect their clients’ privacy, it’s important to be aware that you might encounter someone you know on the trail, or a stranger could overhear part of your conversation.
Is Walk and Talk Therapy the right form of therapy for me?
Here are some reasons why Walk and Talk Therapy might be right for you:
- You enjoy being outdoors and find it safe, calming, and relaxing.
- You’re tired of traditional talk therapy sessions that take place in an office or clinic, and want to try something different.
- You’re feeling stuck and are curious to try a more active and dynamic approach, as compared to more traditional talk therapy sessions.
- You need a change in routine. You’re hoping to get in more steps, spend more time in nature, and reap the benefits of regular exercise and time spent outdoors.
As with any form of therapy, Walk and Talk Therapy has its own unique risks and benefits. With proper planning and precautions, many of these risks can be minimized. If you’re curious to learn more, talk to a licensed therapist or counselor to discuss whether Walk and Talk Therapy is a good fit for your specific needs and circumstances, and to address any concerns you may have.