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Taking Therapy off the Couch by Dr. Teralyn Sell, LPC, CSAC (Part. 2)

A few years ago I decided to start asking some clients if they would like to try walking and talking. Originally I did this primarily with individuals suffering from depression. I knew if I could just get their body's feel-good chemicals working again they would find some relief. To my surprise many readily agreed. I would first make certain that there are no medical concerns that contraindicate a gentle walk. Then I would re-explain limits of confidentiality when we are outside. This does pose some unique challenges. However, where I am located there isn't much walking traffic to be concerned about. So I mapped out how long of a walk we would take in an hour's time. Turns out most clients are not speed walkers and will do a slow paced 2 mile walk during that time. It is a gentle walk for most and I always match their pace rather than them matching mine. I make certain we have water available for hydration and I check for weather limitations. Additionally, I am ready if a client wants to walk, but if they change their mind and do not wish to engage that day I just simply shift my approach and follow their lead. My client's safety and comfort is always first.

The anecdotal responses to walk and talk are nothing short of amazing. Moods improve, clients feel stronger, more motivated and begin to set goals. While on walks we point out things in life that may be missed (birds chirping, flowers blooming, etc). Clients can breathe, move and talk through their struggles. Clients find that walk and talk gets them moving--literally and figuratively; helps them cope with stress; improves sleep; improves focus and removes barriers and stigmas associated with traditional mental health treatment. Since we are not engaging in difficult exercise or personal training, I have found minimal challenges to doing the same therapeutic interventions on the road that we do in the office with added physical benefits (outside of traditional EMDR). Of course there will be challenges that have yet to be uncovered. But for the most part, engaging in walk and talk has had more emotional benefits than risks.

There is a cautionary tale here for the clinician. We must also be prepared for walk and talk with proper shoes and the ability to walk quite a distance in a day's time. For instance I have walked 9 miles in a day with multiple clients. This could be extreme for a clinician who is not used to so much activity so it would be important to schedule your walk and talk clients in intervals that can be easily accommodated.

An added benefit of walk and talk for me and for the client is being able to take my dog and therapy assistant, Linus with us on every walk and talk session unless contraindicated. Adolescents particularly love taking Linus and even get the opportunity to build mastery and self esteem by taking the leash and learning some dog handling techniques along the way. But that is another article in and of itself.

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