Walk and Talk Ecotherapy

Author – Karin Thoms (She/Her) is a passionate advocate for perinatal mental health and peer support. As the Peer Support Program Manager for Perinatal Wellbeing Ontario and a volunteer with organizations like Postpartum Support International, Karin strives to create a supportive community where parents can heal and thrive together.

 


Walk-and-talk ecotherapy (or Outdoor Therapy) is a therapeutic practice that takes the counselling process outdoors into nature. It may go without saying, but being outdoors is wonderfully beneficial to the mind, body, and spirit. For those who are able, walk-and-talk ecotherapy is a tool for healing, wellness, and mental health recovery.

Because walk-and-talk forms of therapy became popular only recently, following the COVID-19 Pandemic, as a way to connect in person while keeping a safe physical distance, more research must be done to encapsulate its benefits fully. However, I have searched continuously for my knowledge and interest and found the following excerpts and information that showcase why walk-and-talk therapy is growing in popularity for good reason.

In this video by PBS SoCal (2013), “Walk and Talk Therapy” founder Clay Cockrell shares how he moved his therapy sessions with clients outdoors: 

 

One study I found highlighted factors that might contribute to an individual liking or disliking the walk-and-talk experience. Newman and Gabriel (2023) considered the following when interviewing their participants about their experiences:

  • The informality of walk-and-talk ecotherapy, such as taking the dog on the walk/therapy session.
  • The feeling of equality between client and counsellor.
  • Not being face-to-face, like they likely would be in an office setting.
  • Being around others with the chance of breach of confidentiality.
  • The therapeutic benefits of being outdoors, in nature.
  • The risk of weather changes and being outdoors.
  • The benefits of walking and the added bonus of physical exercise.

In their study, Newman and Gabriel (2023) found that, although their sample size was small, the majority of participants enjoyed and benefited from walk-and-talk ecotherapy, even with some negative aspects contributing to their experience, such as the weather turning cold or rainy, or the chance of seeing others and of them hearing or knowing a counselling session was taking place.

Therapist Experience at Cambrian Counselling & Wellness (CCW)

Karlie Chalmers (they/them), BA., MSCOT, is an occupational therapist who provides person-focused talk therapy at CCW. I talked to Karlie about why they use Walk and Talk Ecotherapy as part of their therapeutic practice and the clients to whom it is most helpful. They shared, “The main benefit is that when we’re in motion, most people get more blood to the brain. So, we think more in our higher-order functions; it helps the regulator and nervous system so we don’t get too out of our ‘Window of Tolerance‘. If you’re neurodivergent and have something like ADHD or Autism, sitting still can put you out of your window of tolerance. [Walk and Talk Therapy] helps people stay regulated so that, as they tell their story and as we explore their inner world and their psyche, they can bring up painful memories and stay in their window of tolerance…

Regarding the types of clients, Walk and Talk Ecotherapy is beneficial for Karlie suggests the following:

“Clients who have trouble maintaining focus in virtual therapy. I would say anyone with ADHD or learning disabilities related to sustained attention. I also recommend it heavily for people who are in homes where there is abuse, or there are even just issues of privacy. And even for folks who [as part of therapeutic practice would benefit from] community exposure. For example, people who became isolated after COVID due to fear of public spaces or germs or social anxiety…I would use Walk and Talk Therapy as a mini exposure practice.

 

Benefits of Walk and Talk Ecotherapy

From the Google searching and interviews I have done, here is a list of the undeniable benefits of walk-and-talk ecotherapy:

  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression;
  • Helps individuals to be mindful and in the present moment;
  • Reduces feelings of stress and anger;
  • Improves emotional regulation and grounding;
  • Promotes exercise and physical wellness;
  • Reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation;
  • Natural benefits of being outdoors and in nature, such as increased immune system support, better sleep, pain relief, and cognitive function;
  • And many, many more!

 

Thinking About Walk and Talk Ecotherapy?

Cambrian Counselling and Wellness has amazing clinicians who use walk-and-talk ecotherapy as their main modality. You can check out their bios HERE and booking pages HERE. If you aren’t in our clinician’s areas, seek out a Therapist in your area who uses walk-and-talk therapy as part of their therapeutic practice. It is worth a try!

 

References

The above information was sourced from the following resources:

Newman, E., & Gabriel, L. (2023). Investigating clients’ experiences of walk and talk counselling. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research, 23(1), 125–133. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2022-83812-001

Knose, Amanda (2023, August 25). Walk & Talk Therapy: Uses, Benefits & How to Start. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/walk-and-talk-therapy/ 

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