Camilla Coakley, LCSW
Run/Walk and Talk Therapy: A Not So New Concept.
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
"Movement in your body creates movement in your life." Erin Strutland
I have my dad to thank for my private practice - Sound Mind, Sound Body Therapy. It all started with church in the woods (forest therapy). I was about seven years old, it was a gorgeous Ohio Sunday in October. We missed that last mass of the day, and as good catholics we had to make sure we went to church every Sunday, so my dad announced: "let's go to church in the woods!"
During church in the woods my brother and I could ask my dad about anything at all. We were little kids so mostly we were just wondering about many things. "I wonder why the sky is blue?", "I wonder how far I can throw this stone?"," I wonder why all church isn't in the woods?"
I vividly remember our first church in the woods because it was an aha moment. Feeling confined to the cold hard pews at our parish church, St. Ann's in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was just too much for my little active body to handle. Deeply breathing in the fresh crisp air, hearing the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, smelling the earthy scent of flora and fauna did more for my spirit and soul than sitting and kneeling in church.
I realized, even at that young age that going for a hike in the woods was much more spiritual, more grounding and fostered greater sense of love, connectedness and wellbeing than traditional catholic mass.
Once in high school I started running and our "church" in the woods evolved into weekend runs with dad. I solved so many problems during those runs. My dad mostly listening trying to keep up both physically and mentally with my youthful, fast paced legs and mind. I didn't realize it then, but I do now, my dad was filling two roles-- father and therapist.
Fast forward twenty years and it is clear that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Today as a therapist, I call upon those experiences with my dad to offer my clients what my dad offered me: an opportunity to use movement as a way to process emotion, let go of past hurts, increase self esteem, improve focus and boost mood. I often hold my therapy sessions while walking or running (or a combo of both) in nature.
Walk/Run Therapy sounds like a drastic aberration to traditional psychotherapy, and yet, this is is not a new concept. Freud actually conducted some of his psychoanalysis on his patients, including composer Gustav Mahler, while hiking or walking. (Goode, 1998). In 1999 Dr. Kate F. Hayes wrote the book titled: Working It Out, Using Exercise in Psychotherapy. In this book Dr. Hayes cites empirical evidence supporting the use of exercise in conjunction or in combination with psychotherapy.
Somewhere through history though, the steadfast practice of separating the mind from the body took hold amongst the mental health profession and became the norm. Almost universally psychotherapist solely focused on the mind and attended minimally, if at all, to the body. You know the image: the therapist sitting back, hand on chin, nodding, while the client sat still speaking about their thoughts and feelings.
Despite this norm, some therapists are committed to the fact that mind and body must not and cannot be separated. I am one of those therapist.
Just as I processed my troubles and emotions with my dad during our church in the woods hikes and during our weekend runs together, I offer my clients an opportunity for healing through movement and talk therapy. I call it Sound Mind, Sound Body Therapy.
My unwavering belief as a therapist is that the body is meant to move, it needs to move! Movement is medicine for the body, for the mind and for the soul. Moving is essential for a healthy life.
Moving the body as part of therapy, or as an adjunct to therapy, has undeniable mental health benefits. The act of running or walking used in combination with therapy allows clients open up, take down barriers, reconnect to their body, release what is no longer serving them, restore balance and regain perspective. Walk/Run and Talk Therapy has been shown to reduce depression, relieve anxiety, lower stress, boosts self-esteem and increase an overall sense of wellbeing.
Sound Mind, Sound Body Therapy is about listening to the body. Not striving, not pushing, not competing. But rather the focus is about being, allowing and letting go. I meet the client where they are in terms of fitness level and I follow their lead regarding the emotions that come up and need attending to. Some sessions may have more movement and other sessions may be slower paced with deep stretches and/or opportunities for sitting in nature. There is no one formula to what a given client needs on a given day.
William Pullen, is another psychotherapist who promotes the use of movement with psychotherapy. Pullen combines the ancient wisdom of mindfulness with exercise and talk therapy into a modality called Dynamic Running Therapy. Pullen states "Movement shifts perspective and, in so doing, provides clarity, firing up hope, drive and possibility." Pullen has brilliantly made DRT available to the public through his book: Running With Mindfulness: Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT) to Improve Low-mood, Anxiety, Stress, and Depression and his downloadable app. I highly recommend Pullen's work. I use it to help to further support my clients' progress and commitment to movement therapy.
I am always so happy to learn about providers who are respecting the inherent truth that the mind and body are inseparable. I am thrilled to see more empirical evidence supporting the use of exercise/movement in the treatment of depression, anxiety, stress, and add/adhd. Yet, having said all of that, I cannot deny that it is my own personal experience as a child and teenager going on hikes and runs with my dad that made me the biggest believer in the power and effectiveness of run/walk and talk therapy.
My own personal experience as a teen going for those run "therapy" sessions with my dad coupled with the amazing transformations I see with my teen clients, is perhaps why I find using Sound Mind, Sound Body Therapy so beneficial for teenagers. Setting the foundation of exercise and proper nutrition helps set the path to a future of healthy behaviors that support a healthy mind in a health body for a lifetime.
Although you didn't call it Sound Mind, Sound Body Therapy, I wanted to officially thank you for giving me a foundation of mind body health. The early wisdom you bestowed upon me has helped me grow leaps and bounds both personally, and professionally. And also thanks for helping to pay for my fantastic website!:) I love you.
Reach out if you want to learn more about run/walk talk therapy!
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