Walking therapy: what is it and how does it work?
Walking therapies are relatively new to the UK, after originating in the US. Ordinarily, most Counselling sessions take place in an office and usually in a chair. But it’s good to mix things up sometimes, plus there are proven medical benefits of incorporating exercise into our everyday lives.
Mental Health benefits of walking are many
The mental health charity Mind carried out extensive research, which showed that walking in the countryside could help reduce depression and anxiety. They reported that 71% of respondents felt decreased depression and less tense after a “green” walk, while 90% felt their self-esteem increase after a country walk. The NHS also recognise the benefits of the activity on mental health and mental well-being. In fact, any kind of exercise can help to reduce levels of stress, depression and anxiety.
The Great Outdoors
Think about the environment in an office. It can sometimes feel claustrophobic to some clients, hemmed in. Being out in the open air, surrounded by nature can be instantly calming for some clients. Sitting in a room opposite your Counsellor can also be really intense sometimes and if the discussion has the potential to be really difficult, it can sometimes help the Client to not be facing directly towards the Counsellor. Walking outside side by side, can help the Client to relax a bit more and could help them to talk about potentially, difficult subjects.
This is not a new concept, Counsellors have been walking with clients with years, since the early 20th Century but just recently it begun to gather momentum amongst Clients and Counsellors alike.
How does it work?
Walking therapies also have the added benefit of adding some exercise to our lives. Obesity is the modern day health crisis and walking can be a massive help in losing weight and managing our mental health. Walking can lower blood pressure, improve your mood and more importantly, give the Client space to talk and express themselves.
Walking therapies can also be really beneficial in lowering stress and anxiety
Being outdoors helps us all to connect with nature and the living world, which we sometimes lose sight of when we are trapped indoors for so much of the working day. Another really positive effect of walking therapies is that the space where the Client and Counsellor walk together, is a completely neutral space which helps to alleviate any anxieties that the Client may have about starting therapy.
The client generally sets the pace and time of the session, within the total time allocated for the session. Some people can walk for an hour and some can’t, it’s completely Client led.
Some Clients like to stop on the walk and take a look around, others not, it all depends on how the Client is feeling and how comfortable they feel.
Other benefits of walking therapy
The other big benefit of Walking therapies in these uncertain times is the reduced chance of contracting Covid 19. Infection rates outside are much lower than inside so it’s an option for people who are anxious about Covid 19.
Parents of babies or very young children, who would find their child a distraction in the therapy room or cannot find a babysitter to attend indoor work can find walking therapy useful; the baby is in the buggy, often asleep and they can walk and talk.
How can confidentiality be maintained and is it for you?
Walking therapy has some unique considerations regarding confidentiality.
If a Client has significant concerns about being identified or listened to in a public space, walking therapy maybe not be the best option for them.
Clients may be concerned about discussing, what are sometimes very personal subjects, in the open air.
Given that the paths chosen would be low-traffic paths, the likelihood of bumping into someone is low. However, predicting and processing ahead of time is the best and most ethical approach so all eventualities are covered.
Another common question is how to explain walking into someone known on the path for either the Counsellor or Client. This response is best handled before we start our process. Some clients feel comfortable stating our roles if we are stopped by someone familiar to them on our walk. For other Clients, introducing a Counsellor as a “friend” and moving on may be preferred.
In addition, sometimes there may be a need to find privacy in the sessions, away from the path so it might be appropriate to take a break and move back to an inside space. Importantly, these decisions are made collaboratively between Counsellor and Client.
Natural Minds is working on offering Walking therapies, so why not let us know your thoughts and opinions on this option.
Take care xx