Walking and talking therapy – sometimes known as ecotherapy, green, outdoor or nature therapy – is proving to be increasingly popular. This type of therapy combines physical activity, psychotherapy, and being exposed to nature. It involves a therapist, coach or counselor, and the person they’re helping, walking and talking together in a natural environment.
The chosen location could be the countryside, a park, woodlands, in the mountains or on a beach. It is seen to be especially beneficial if in a tranquil setting, but this doesn’t necessarily mean somewhere remote. For example, New York’s Central Park is a popular location for some walking and talking therapy.
However, it does need to be somewhere where the counselor and their client can speak and listen freely without any problems from noise or any other distractions around them.
The mind-body connection
Walking and talking therapy is a mindfulness-based therapy that helps people to access emotions and process experiences in a different way from traditional therapy settings.
The combination of movement, nature and psychology has multifaceted benefits for the mind, body, and the connection between the two.
Our mind, body and soul are inextricably linked. In addiction expert and author Dr Gabor Maté’s latest bestselling book The Myth of Normal, he writes mind and body as “mindbody”.
Dr Maté explains this is to help people be conscious of the fact that our mind and body are utterly connected. For instance, if we think and feel negatively for some time, it can and often will have a negative effect on us in a physical sense.
“The word mindbody has been suggested to convey the real state of things,” says Dr Maté. “Not even in the West is mindbody thinking completely new.
“In one of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates quotes a doctor’s criticism of his Greek colleagues: ‘This is the reason why the cure of so many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas; they are ignorant of the whole. For this is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the mind from the body.'”
What are the benefits of walking and talking therapy?
Walking and talking therapy is becoming increasingly popular due to the many benefits it offers. These include:
More physical activity
Regular exercise has been proven to improve our overall health, particularly cardiovascular health. In the West, far too many people spend too much time not moving for long periods of time. This is simply not healthy for us.
Indeed, in his popular book A Statin Free Life, consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra writes about how the best way to avoid heart problems comes from increasing our movement. He also suggests ensuring a healthy diet and reducing stress, especially through daily meditation.
As many people who seek help from a counselor have often not been taking care of themselves in terms of eating healthily, regularly exercising and managing stress, it makes walking and talking therapy even more advantageous.
Although recovery is mostly an inside job – we need to feel good from within – if we feel, look and know that we are physically healthy, it will help with that inner feeling, giving a boost to self-esteem.
Greater focus and overall cognitive function
Walking in nature increases circulation, boosts blood flow, and improves our cognitive function. This includes our focus, attention span, concentration and memory, helping us to process our thoughts and feelings more effectively.
This alone is clearly beneficial, but when it is combined with having someone to talk to – who has expertise in mental health and emotional matters – it gives a unique setting for self-discovery and reflection.
Being outside, surrounded by such as trees, plants, and flowers, provides an ideal environment to explore our emotions. This is a positive help in increasing our self-awareness as well as understanding our motivations and personal challenges.
Better mental health
Being in nature itself gives us a break from many daily stressors. It lets us clear our heads as we breathe more slowly and evenly and ground ourselves in the present moment – lowering stress, improving mood, and reducing the risk of many psychiatric disorders.
Studies have shown that being among nature has a positive effect on our overall well-being. Being in nature and engaging in walk-and-talk therapy activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down our heart rate, and helps our nervous system to relax. Studies have found that this reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In 2004, Japan’s National Land Afforestation Promotion Organization carried out research and found that a stroll in a forest had positive effects on heart rate, blood pressure and the immune system. Astoundingly, they also discovered that people who merely looked at a view of a forest for around 20 minutes had a 13 percent lower concentration of the stress hormone cortisol.
As well, being in a natural environment increases creativity. Perhaps because there are less stressors around as well as being in calm and stillness, it stimulates the imagination and inspires new creative ideas.
Improved emotion regulation
Exercising, talking with a trusted person, and removing oneself from triggering situations are all healthy emotional regulation skills – which walking and talking therapy naturally implements.
Studies show that practicing real-time mindfulness in this way – focusing on the body, nature, and sensory experiences – is an important part of learning to regulate emotions.
Gaining a sense of community
Many mental health conditions, including addiction, leave people feeling isolated and disconnected, so the benefits of walking and talking therapy here are obvious. There’s a well-known phrase in addiction recovery communities that says: the opposite of addiction is connection.
As walking and talking therapy can be done in a group, it can really help to build relationships. It can create a healthy sense of community. Much as in group therapy, there can be an absolute sense of not being alone with certain problems and uncomfortable feelings – but all outside with the bonus of being surrounded by nature.
Getting a strong connection with nature
Walking and talking therapy allow the natural outdoor setting to calm and relax us enough to be fully present and connected. Connecting with nature gives us a sense of wonder for this world. This is a feeling of gratitude. Feeling grateful is vitally important to anyone’s general well-being.
This can be a world away from where many people have been who’ve been struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, stress or depression.
Another helpful aspect of being in and looking at nature is that it can have the positive effect of “right-sizing” any problems. Looking at an ancient towering tree, the vastness of the sky, mammoth mountains, a lake, the flow of a river or stream, and the rhythm of sea waves helps to put many worries we have into perspective.
Tikvah Lake: the perfect place
Here at Tikvah Lake, we are fortunate to have a beautiful, tranquil 200-acre lake lapping up right to our lawn. We have seen countless times how relaxed people become from the moment they first set eyes on our lake – as well as the surrounding stunning nature, which is so beneficial to wellbeing.
We have found that many people feel more relaxed in the open space of the great outdoors. This allows them to speak more freely and honestly than if they were in a more formal and enclosed setting, such as a traditional therapy room.
Our Florida location was specifically chosen with all this uppermost in mind. We are right next door to a State Park that has miles of walking trails with breathtaking scenery.
Of course, then there is Florida’s exceptional year-round sunshine making it pleasantly warm enough to be outside virtually every single day. We think where we are in Florida is the best place in the world for a recovery center with numerous benefits for rehabilitation, relaxation and recovery.
Our friendly experienced team of experts has helped people with many emotional issues and every type of mental health problem. Call us today to hear how we can help you or someone you know.
If you’d like to read more about research on walking and talking therapy, we recommend following a review of studies on the topic by Dr Sam Cooley (2020), who identified 38 articles on talking therapy in nature-based settings.
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