Top 5 Reasons Why Walk and Talk Therapy is Picking Up Speed

See if this approach aligns with your clients' needs and goals

Jennifer Udler, LCSW-C

Walk and talk therapy, also known as outdoor therapy or outdoor counseling, is a form of therapeutic intervention that combines traditional talk therapy with physical activity outdoors. Instead of conducting therapy sessions in a traditional office setting, the therapist and client engage in sessions while walking outdoors, typically in a natural or park-like environment.

During walk and talk therapy, the client and therapist walk side by side, creating a more casual and relaxed atmosphere compared to sitting face-to-face in a traditional therapy room. The physical movement and being in nature can provide a range of benefits that enhance the therapeutic experience.

Here are 5 reasons why walk and talk therapy is picking up speed:

1. Walk and Talk Therapy Made History in 2020. Sigmund Freud met clients for long walks and transformed lives while rambling and ambling through the old cobblestone streets of Europe. The sofa may have been his trademark place, but the patter of his feet and the puff of his pipe also worked wonders on the subconscious minds of his patients.

As walk and talk therapy grew its legs, nothing propelled it more quickly than the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of 2020, therapists quickly moved their practices to telehealth sessions. Most clients huddled in cars and closets, hoping to sneak in 50 minutes of privacy with their now two-dimensional therapist. But this format was not for everyone, and therapists looked for other ways to meet their clients in a safe, COVID-free environment. Walk and talk gained momentum as providers began to value meeting in person and clients craved the physical presence of their confidants.

2. Clients and Therapists Are Free to Be Themselves. Getting back to my roots, I remember the first thing I learned in social work school: “meet the client where they’re at.” This is not just limited to a client’s emotional state. Not everyone is comfortable going to an office, a waiting room, or the therapy room sofa. When I first meet clients, I often hear them say, “I really like being outside. I can be myself, and I have a meaningful connection to the outdoors.”

Guess what? Being outside may also feel more comfortable for the therapist! I feel more genuine and relaxed in a green space. I would also like to take a moment to thank nature for being my co-therapist. I am no longer working alone. Metaphors are abundant in my forest-based office. Sometimes they sneak up on me even when I’m not looking for symbolism. The richness provided by the outdoors is incomparable to any poster, plant, or window that I had in past walled-off offices.

3. Walk and Talk Keeps Things Fresh and Flourishing. “Sitting is the new smoking.” Does this ring a bell? Turns out that sitting all day is not so good for you! We therapists have a knack for sitting. At some point in time (maybe age 40?), this catches up to you. Lower back pain, weight gain, sciatica, and what I like to call “gravitational pull” all settle in. The remedy? Moving your body. Walk and talk therapists are finding new life in their backs, less pain in their necks, and more mobility as they incorporate even one or two walking sessions a week.

Overwhelmed and overworked? Burnout is an unfortunate side effect of our jobs. To hold on to seasoned clinicians, perhaps we can open some options for therapists to practice self-care during a counseling session. Sluggish in the morning? Tired after lunch? As a former sitting therapist, I remember it all. It is hard to be so thoroughly engaged, alert, and attentive all the time. How unfortunate it must be to be the last client of the day, while your therapist may be staring at the clock, stifling yawns, and shifting in their seat. Introduce movement, fresh air, and an expanded view; walk and talk therapists have found greater focus, enhanced creativity, and increased alertness during sessions. It is okay to take care of your own cognizance while actively providing therapy.

4. “A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body.” Mens sana incorpore sano—translates to “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” Research shows that exercise is a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety. Research also confirms that trauma lives in the body and is processed both physically and mentally. We can no longer think that talk therapy is the exclusive way to produce results. Moving around, breathing fresh air, and noticing positive sensations as clients tell their stories is a healing recipe for growth.

We are aiming to help our clients feel better and think positively about their own bodies. We know that exercising and walking increase feelings of self-worth. Any “body” is welcome to engage in walk and talk therapy. I have met with different body types, sizes, and abilities. Every one of those bodies and souls longs to feel healthy.

5. Clients Build Relationships in the Safety of Our Biome. At a time when we are managed by so many “others,” we need to provide options for reliable access to mental health treatment. When it feels challenging to navigate a rigid system, clients look for open doors. I learn so much from my younger clients who report no shame in seeking counseling. They are comfortable meeting outdoors and often share with their friends the lessons they have learned in therapy. We are on a great path to reach more people and destigmatize therapy.

In fact, when we walk together (with friends, with family, or in a walk and talk session), we increase our sense of safety and connectedness. When we travel together, we forge bonds and build connections by being by each other’s sides. Clients need to be met with unconditional positive regard, another guiding principle of therapy. Our biome is where we create that secure space, that empathic place, where we shelter and plant the seeds for transformation.

And if you're ready to learn more, inside Walk and Talk Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Incorporating Movement and Nature into Your Practice you’ll also find answers to your questions about how to take your therapy practice outside, including a roadmap for crafting a holistic sensory experience to aid your therapeutic work.

Walk and Talk Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Incorporating Movement and Nature into Your Practice
Walk and Talk Therapy
In Walk and Talk Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Incorporating Movement and Nature into Your Practice, Jen presents the many benefits of an outdoor, movement-based psychotherapy practice and provides tools for clinicians to develop their own version, no matter where or with whom they practice. The book is organized into four parts, each corresponding with a season of the year that serves as a metaphor for our adaptability in the face of life’s constant changes.

Inside, you’ll find answers for your questions about how to take your therapy practice outside, including advice on foundational concerns such as ethics and safety.

Meet the Expert:
Jennifer Udler, LCSW-C, of Positive Strides Therapy, moved her Maryland practice outside ten years ago. She's presented widely on the positive effects of doing therapy in motion and outdoors. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Psychotherapy Networker, Outside Magazine, and on Sirius XM radio.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

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