Walk & Talk Therapy
An innovative approach to mental health treatment
What is it?
We take all the same traditional elements of talk therapy but remove the sitting part. Instead, we meet at a chosen location such as a park or neighbourhood, establish a route, walk at a slow to moderate pace (set by you) and talk. I have the same approach to walk and talk therapy as I do with regular in-office or video sessions. You can expect introspective questions, opportunities to reflect and get in touch with your body, all with the added benefits of nature, movement and a change of scenery.
Well, I'm not gong to lie, I thought about jogging therapy but then realized I can barely run for 20 mins without talking, let alone at the same time. I am a firm believer that walking can help to process deeply held emotions, aid in decision making and support meaningful self-reflection. Walking has long been a simple but widely acknowledged tool for healing. There is substantial data showing that walkers have lower rates of depression and anxiety.
In short, by incorporating walking into the practice of psychotherapy we induce physiological changes that cannot take place while sitting.
We live in an ever-increasingly static society. Especially during Covid, you may find you are sitting at your desk longer, seldom leaving the house and, despite not having to commute, finding yourself with less time in a day. Combining therapy with walking is a safe way to meet with your therapist face-to-face and reap the benefits of movement/exercise simultaneously.
Movement in the body = movement in the brain; Psychological flexibility is crucial for increasing mindfulness and decreasing anxiety and depression. Psychological flexibility is the degree to which a person can adapt to changing circumstances, balance competing needs/desires, access the present moment and shift perspectives.
Walking in a park can feel like a more relaxed and natural way to talk about hard things with another person. For those individuals suffering with anxiety for instance, the eye contact that often comes with traditional therapeutic environment is minimized while walking.
Walking raises levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which, writes Shane O’Mara, “could be thought of as a kind of a molecular fertilizer produced within the brain because it supports structural remodelling and growth of synapses after learning … BDNF increases resilience to ageing, and damage caused by trauma or infection.”
There is research to suggest that walking might produce similar effects to EMDR, a technique used to facilitate the processing of traumatic memories. EMDR's origin story was a walk in the park!
Movement is one of the best known ways to complete the stress response cycle (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn).
There is a lot more science to support combining walking with talk therapy than I am including here. If you are intrigued or curious to learn more, here are some of the best sources I found:
I was featured in this Maclean's article The Pathway to Better Mental Health is Getting more Literal - Jason Markusof