“People think better on their feet, and I believe allows people to open up more,” he said.
The combination of walking and talking combines two different things known to be good for people: being physically active and talking through issues to help resolve them, according to Kate Hays, Ph.D, a Toronto-based clinical psychologist, founder of the Performing Edge sports and performance psychology practice and author of the book “Working It Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy.”
She said this dual approach allows individuals and practitioners to think differently about problems.
“You’re kind of giving your frontal lobes (the area of the brain responsible for order and sequence) a rest, which frees the mind to tap into deeper levels of thought,” she explained. Using this approach with a skilled practitioner can create those much-desired “aha” moments.
In addition to the physical benefits that walking offers, such as helping to regulate blood pressure, reduce stress and increase serotonin levels, it also provides an opportunity to redefine traditional roles that may keep certain people from seeking therapy.
“Some clients find it hard to just sit on the couch and tolerate the gaze of the therapist,” explains Mari Lee, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Growth Counseling Services in Glendora, Calif., who said walking side by side with her clients creates a new dynamic that is less intimidating and more conducive to problem-solving with the right type of person.
For some of her most depressed and anxious clients, she considers walk and talk therapy the most beneficial work they can do.
“So many of them never take time to play or savor the moment,” she said. “When they are on a walk with me and see something enjoyable in nature, it’s like a black and white photograph turning to color.”
Enjoyment is also a large factor in the movement’s popularity. Many clients sit in an office all day, which makes driving to yet another office for a therapy session seem less than appealing.
“They look forward to getting outside and walking as an uninterrupted time for reflection and exercise,” said Melissa Bercier, Ph.D, a licensed clinical social worker at Walk and Talk Therapy and Life Consulting in Elmhurst, Ill.
For some of her clients, just a few sessions are enough to motivate them toward a healthier lifestyle that benefits both their mental and physical health.
“I show them how easy it is to walk, and they realize how enjoyable it is and develop a habit of walking on their own,” she said.
It’s important to note that there’s no credential specific to walk and talk therapy (although the practitioner should be appropriately licensed in an area like psychotherapy or social work), and individuals seeking such treatment need to ensure the method is a good fit both for themselves and the therapist. There are also some privacy concerns introduced through walking in public.
However, those who practice walk and talk therapy continue to extol its virtues for both the mind and the body. As Cockrell notes, “It’s for people willing to think outside the box - who want to not just talk about problems but also make significant changes.”