1. What is walk and talk nature-based therapy?
Walk and talk nature based therapy is just what it sounds like: clients participate in therapy while walking in nature. I use the same therapy methods and techniques that I do in my standard office-based therapy practice, yet I do so while we walk outside in nature rather than sit indoors. I provide walk and talk nature-based therapy in the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park in Boston so clients can easily access the natural environment by train, bus, bike or car, yet still be immersed in a natural setting. I am also open to visiting other outdoor nature places that are special to clients when time allows for it. I provide this therapy year round and offer office based therapy sessions when a client does not to walk outside because of the weather.
2. Why do walk and talk nature-based therapy?
While research is ongoing to explain why walk and talk therapy is effective, one simple finding is clear: Rhythmic exercise, such as walking, can be conducive to the process of self-discovery, insight, having breakthroughs in understanding and an overall sense of well being. Have you ever been stuck on a problem and then decided to go for a walk or run and suddenly an answer comes to you? Or what you’ve been ruminating over feels less overwhelming? This is why we walk and talk.
One psychologist, Kate Hays, provides three reasons for combining walking and therapy:
- It helps a patient get “unstuck” when confronting difficult issues.
- It spurs creative, deeper ways of thinking often released by mood-improving physical activity.
- It encourages clients to be more physically active for mental and physical reasons.
Walk and talk therapist, Clay Cockrell says, “My therapy sessions are conducted outdoors while walking, and somehow the simple act of walking while talking out life’s issues – creates an environment of possibility and change.” I agree.
Walk and talk therapy also allows people who sit a lot to have the chance to move around while engaging in therapy, which contributes to improved mental and physical health. In addition, some people don’t feel comfortable sitting and looking at a therapist. Walking outside allows people the comfort of more open space and the freedom to visually focus on diverse scenery while talking.
Why walk in nature?
The simple answer is that being in nature can provide a sense of peace and healing for many people. Many health care researchers and practitioners say that nature-based therapy improves mood and eases anxiety, stress and depression. One research study found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation. In addition, for people of color in urban environments who have had our relationship with nature disrupted by colonization, industrialism, capitalism, urbanization and racist state laws, restoring a ritual relationship with the natural environment can be an act of reclaiming one’s historical relationships and traditional healing practices with the earth.
Lastly, as someone who loves physical activity and being outdoors, walk and talk nature-based therapy helps me respond to clients from a place of aliveness and creativity, which bolsters my ability to support my clients’ healing processes.
3. Some reasons why you might you consider walk and talk nature-based therapy:
- You have experienced peace, clarity and/or healing while doing physical activity and/or being in nature before and want to do this on a more regular basis with a trained therapist.
- You have a job where you sit too much and would love to pair movement with therapy so you can do both things in your limited schedule.
- You have tried office-based therapy before, but felt uncomfortable sitting face to face with a therapist in a small room.
- You feel stuck in your current healing practices (or life) and want to try something different that embodies movement.
- You have seasonal affective disorder (or just get blue in the winter) and want to have support while being outside in order to get the therapeutic effects of the sunlight all year round.
- You want to develop a new relationship with nature and the outdoors that is connected to your healing/therapeutic needs.
- You live with depression and want to be more physically active, but struggle with being able to because of depression.
4. Frequently Asked Questions about walk and talk nature-based therapy:
- What if I see someone I know while we are walking? No problem. During our first session I will ask what you would like to do if we see someone you know while we are walking. No one knows that we are doing therapy when walking in a park and in general, if this happens, people just wave and we keep walking.
- What about confidentiality? Can people hear us? I carefully select the paths we walk for sessions in order to walk less travelled paths. Even when we are walking on main paths and pass others, we can easily lower our voices or pause if it feels necessary. That being said, when we walk we move past people so quickly that it does not seem to be an issue for walk and talk therapists who walk in public parks.
- What about the winter?? It gets cold in Boston! Yes, it does! One of my personal goals has been to embrace the outdoors all year round so that winter does not deter me from getting nature’s medicine. I have found that dressing appropriately allows me to feel comfortable outside in most weather conditions. That being said, if a client does not feel like they can be outside because of the weather, we can meet in my home office for session. Clients can make the weather call on the morning of sessions.
- Will I get cardio exercise during therapy? We will walk at the pace that best suits your needs, sometimes pausing to sit on a bench or the ground, but will not run or do cardio exercise (unless of course there is a brief spontaneous burst of energy during therapy on your part!).
- Can I use my insurance for walk and talk nature-based therapy? Yes! I take BCBS insurance and am an out of network provider for anyone who has out of network insurance benefits. If you do not have BCBS please call your provider and ask if you have any out of network behavioral health benefits. Clients with out of network benefits pay for sessions upfront and are then reimbursed by their health insurance provider.