Walk and talk therapy falls under the umbrella of eco-psychotherapy, a combination of ‘ecology’ and ‘psychotherapy’ or ‘psychology’.1 Sometimes viewed as a mindfulness technique or type of outdoor therapy, this method may be used for a variety of clients. There are various benefits of walk and talk therapy, including positive impacts on anxiety, depression, and stress.
What Is Walk and Talk Therapy?
Walk and talk therapy is a form of outdoor therapy and nature therapy, which are both in the field of eco-psychotherapy. Other examples of this category include adventure therapy, wilderness therapy, nature art therapy, animal-assisted psychotherapy, and horticultural (gardening) therapy.1 In sum, psychotherapy, physical activity, and being exposed to nature are the main components of walk and talk therapy.2
Oftentimes, individuals who seek outdoor therapy, nature therapy, or walk and talk therapy have a love for or enjoy being in nature.1 For others, it may be difficult to sit still while trying to process emotions in a traditional therapy session. Another reason someone may seek walk and talk therapy is because they do not like the sometimes awkward format of being stared at by a therapist sitting across from them. Similarly, they may come from a job in which they sit at a desk all day.1
Walk and talk therapy begins with the client and therapist meeting at a location they previously agreed upon, possibly during the initial intake session. During sessions, the client tends to lead the pace of the walk 1.
Walk & talk therapy can be helpful in the treatment of:
- Self-Esteem Issues
- Life Transitions
Are There Any Ethical Concerns?
It is important that prior to the first walk and talk therapy session, the therapist informs the client the extent to which confidentiality can be implemented in a natural environment. This should be a conversation between the therapist and the client, and also clearly explained in the therapist’s consent forms.
Because walk and talk therapy takes place in a natural setting, there could be nearby people who can hear parts of a session. This is very different from being in an office or online setting, in which the therapist and client are more in control of the environment. Therefore, it will be important for the client to reflect on the possibility of others overhearing or witnessing them becoming emotional (i.e. crying) when sensitive topics come up. This can help a person decide if walk and talk therapy is a good option to include in their mental health treatment.
8 Benefits of Walk & Talk Therapy
There are various benefits of walk and talk therapy, and it can be used in conjunction with other treatment methods for a number of conditions. Walk and talk therapy can have a positive impact on symptoms of anxiety, sleep patterns, stress levels, symptoms of depression, life transitions, self-esteem, and more.3, 4
Here are eight benefits of walk and talk therapy:
1. Reduces Anxiety
Movement can help with decreasing anxiety a person may be feeling during a walk and talk session.1 A client may feel more at ease and relaxed after engaging in an active activity while simultaneously processing their thoughts, emotions, and experiences.1.
2. Reduces Depression
A recent research survey found that 71% of people who engaged in a country walk felt a decrease in depression symptoms.4 It has also been recorded that clients experience increased energy after engaging in the physical activity used in walk and talk therapy.4 Fatigue is one common symptom of depression, so regaining energy could be a significant benefit for some clients.
3. Reduces Intrusive Thoughts
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that cause significant distress and anxiety.5 These intrusive thoughts may include repeated doubts of one’s relationship, difficulty with making decisions, questioning one’s sexual orientation or identity, or any worries and questions that do not have a definite answer.5
Intrusive thoughts could also be linked to an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or eating disorder. Taking a walk in nature can ground a person’s mind into the present moment, aiding in thought stopping.4 It has been shown that clients felt a sense of “centering” during and after participating in the physical experience of walk and talk therapy; this produces clarity in one’s thinking, and an ability to synthesize in a new way.2
4. Reduces Ruminative Thoughts
Ruminative thinking, otherwise known as rumination, is the tendency to think about the same thing consistently over and over again, often in the form of negative thoughts. The ‘walk’ part of walk and talk therapy grounds a client’s mind in the present moment, which in turn decreases rumination. The ‘talk’ aspect allows the client to process the ruminating thought with the therapist.
5. Reduces Stress
Exercise is known to be a method of stress management, indicating that the physical activity part of walk and talk therapy itself can be of benefit. There are also a variety of therapeutic modalities that can be helpful for stress reduction and teaching clients how to deal with their stress in healthy ways–many of which can be easily applied by a therapist during a walk and talk therapy session. According to experts, being in an outdoor environment and engaging in walk and talk therapy helps one’s nervous system relax.1
6. Reduces Anger
There are many different types of anger that one may experience. Physical activity has been shown to help with “releasing” and coping with anger. One study found that youth who engaged in walk and talk therapy increased their ability to manage their anger.2 It also provided them with an opportunity for physical release, allowing them to better clarify their feelings.2
7. Improved Emotion Regulation
In order to regulate one’s mood or emotions, it’s first important to be aware of what emotions you are feeling and increase your mind-body connection. Research has shown that movement can encourage self-awareness and emotional awareness.1 Healthy emotional regulation skills include talking with a trusted person, exercising, removing oneself from a triggering situation, going to therapy, and more. These positive coping skills for emotional regulation are naturally implemented in walk and talk therapy. Sessions may also incorporate other positive coping methods for emotional regulation, like thought challenging and positive affirmations.
8. Improved Ability to Cope With Life Transitions or Feeling Stuck
Many people go to therapy because they are at a period in their life in which they feel “stuck”. They may also have difficulty coping with a life transition or event like switching jobs, ending of a relationship, moving, or bereavement. Walk and talk therapy has been suggested that walking frees a person from a sense of feeling suck.6 Walking is a literal way to show the client that they can keep moving forward in their life.
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Does Walk and Talk Therapy Work?
Exercise in general has proven benefits, including positive impacts on depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and other physical and mental health conditions.1 Therapists who have implemented walk and talk therapy or other forms of exercise and nature therapy in their sessions have found it to have its benefits with their clients.
One case study reported that clients’ experiences with walk and talk therapy provided “astonishing” breakthroughs in their lives regarding complex trauma.1 Furthermore, research has found that walk and talk therapy could offer a less stigmatizing therapeutic alternative to traditional indoor therapy, and clients felt it was equally or more therapeutic than the latter.1
What Does a Walk and Talk Therapy Session Include?
In addition to what may be expected in a first therapy session, a therapist will also discuss the possible limitations and benefits of a client’s session. The therapist and client will also agree on a park, walking trail, or other nature setting for walk and talk therapy to take place. Sessions typically last anywhere from 30-minutes to 55-minutes. Length of sessions will also be discussed during the first therapy session, and may fluctuate based on the needs of the client.
The setting in which walk and talk therapy is facilitated is important, too.7 Case studies show that those who participated in more natural settings had greater affective and cognitive benefits than others in urban settings.7 This suggests that the type of setting the therapist and client agree upon can have an impact on the overall outcomes.
A walk & talk therapy session may include:
- Meeting at a local park and walking side-by-side
- Meeting at a lake with a surrounding walking area and walking side-by-side
- Meeting at a hiking trail and walking side-by-side
- Walking along the water at a beach side-by-side
- Engaging in psychotherapy (talk therapy) while walking side-by-side
- Sitting near water or a landscape at moments during the session, further promoting connection with nature
- Brief meditation periods
Is Walk & Talk Therapy a Good Fit for Me?
If someone enjoys being outdoors, wants to begin therapy, and is interested in a holistic approach to treatment, walk and talk therapy may be something they’d like to consider. Also, if a person wants to incorporate more exercise into their life, but doesn’t have the time for or are generally having a difficult time implementing it, walk and talk therapy may be a great option.
Walk and talk therapy may be an approach for someone who is having symptoms of depression or anxiety, and would prefer to try holistic approaches over medication. Additionally, it may help those experiencing treatment resistant depression. A person who is interested in therapy, but traditional therapy settings seem daunting or unappealing, may enjoy this alternative method, too. However, research suggests that walk and talk therapy is more effective for teens and adults, rather than younger children.
What If I Don’t Like the Outdoors?
Your therapist will always work with you and discuss what the best treatments are to meet your needs. Maybe you’re interested in walk and talk therapy, but aren’t the biggest fan of outdoor activities like hiking or walking through wooded areas. Other options could include going to a lake or pond, walking on the beach, or even walking on the sidewalk around your therapists’ office. Just be sure to communicate with your therapist about what you are comfortable with and what works for you, and remember that your therapist is always going to prioritize that.
How to Find a Walk and Talk Therapist
It is not always easy to find the right therapist. Be sure to read through therapists’ bios, look into what approaches they utilize, and what they specialize in. Using an online therapist directory gives you the opportunity to search for therapists in your state, and filter by specific therapist specialties. You can also consult your primary physician for a therapist referral.
Walk and talk therapy marries physical activity and psychotherapy, which are both significantly impactful methods for improving a multitude of mental health symptoms. While this method may not be for everyone, if you are interested and remain open-minded, you may reap its many benefits. This type of therapeutic technique can also help decrease the stigma associated with therapy. It can teach you how to put healthy habits into practice, like exercising and enjoying nature. No matter what your fitness level is or therapeutic needs are at each session, your therapist should always take those into consideration.