Feeling restricted by her office-bound clinical practice, licensed clinical social worker and author of Walk and Talk Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Incorporating Movement and Nature into Your Practice
Jen Udler decided to take therapy outdoors. Walking on local nature trails with her clients proved to be the breakthrough Jen was looking for. The calming presence of nature provided a rich and varied backdrop for every therapy session, offering natural metaphors for each client’s experience, while the rhythmic movement cultivated deeper connections between mind and body. Walking side by side also deepened the interactions between Jen and her clients, empowering her to gently guide them forward on their path through one season and into the next.
We sat down with Jen to answer all your questions about incorporating walk and talk therapy into your practice, including the importance of location and timing, insurance questions and more. 1. How do I make time in my already busy schedule for walking with clients?
I would first start with blocking off a few future time slots that work for you to incorporate a walking client. Perhaps it’s two days a week for one to three hours each morning. Or perhaps you would prefer to end the day with a walking session. Already a marathoner? Maybe you offer running and walking sessions. If you build it, they will come. 2. What about insurance and location codes?
Accepting insurance brings up a lot of concerns for clinicians. This is very loaded. Add walk and talk to the mix, and you might be at risk of freezing in your tracks. Consider asking your clients if they would be willing to call their insurance company and ask how they process claims for walk and talk sessions. If you want to take that on (in your spare time), go for it. Currently, there is no one universal location code for walk and talk. Think about how an outdoor session may be the most effective therapy for your client, and make a case for that with the insurance company. Get creative, involve your clients, and think outside the box! 3. Do I need a new informed consent?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Definitely draft a new informed consent that is easy to understand. Be sure to delineate what is your responsibility and what is on the client. Hint: Remind clients that it’s their choice to engage in walk and talk and that they are responsible for their own bodies and personal property. Other details are important to define—communicate to your clients and confirm their understanding by having them sign on the dotted line. 4. How do I switch a current client to walk and talk?
The best way to start is to reach for the lowest hanging fruit—meaning begin introducing the idea of walking during a session to your current clients. Does that anxious athlete retie their shoes, stand up, and say “now”? Or does your always overwhelmed client lay back down on the couch and curl up in a fetal position? 5. How do I let incoming clients know what I do?
Listen carefully! If you don’t tell people what you do, they won’t be able to find you. They need you, you are offering something unique and valuable, and it is essential that you let them know that you exist! This is not sales-y marketing. This is making finding the appropriate therapist easier on an already stressed-out person. Help them before you even work your magic. 6. What do you do in inclement weather?
For sure, the outdoors is not a controlled environment. When you take on walk and talk therapy, you have mother nature to reckon with. Look ahead, use your apps, plan accordingly. Offer options (reschedule, telehealth). Leaning into the elements can be an effective and powerful part of the therapeutic process. Random wildlife story: During the 17-year cicada revival, I had oh, just a few things to grapple with. Lucky for us, that’s done until 2038! 7. How important is location and timing?
Please be kind to yourself and thoughtful about your plans when you begin. Pick your paths carefully. Be sure there are restrooms, safe parking lots, and well-lit areas when it’s dusk. Experiment with the aim to create a manageable schedule. Remember to spread out your breaks so that you can breathe between sessions. 8. How can I start a group? Will they come, and what’s the best way to make it a success?
Outdoor groups can be amazing! Plan carefully and allot a liberal amount of time. You are offering a valuable service, so please advertise and don’t be afraid to charge for your professional services. Stick with a consistent location and one that lends itself to some rest and sitting areas. These will be important for group discussions. 9. What if we see someone we know?
Smile, nod, and keep walking. I have gotten used to this, and it is no longer uncomfortable to not engage with my neighbor. Remember you are there to provide therapy to your client. You have already established early on that you are going to protect their privacy. Now, you only need to follow through. Chances are, that your client is so relieved to speak with you, that they don’t necessarily notice that you’ve just signaled a courtesy nod as you pass your Zumba instructor. 10. What should I do to learn more about establishing a walk and talk practice?
Take a walk. Try things out. Practice. Buy the book. Take the course. Connect with other walk and talk therapists. Join the Facebook group: Outdoor walking therapists. Keep learning!