Awakening to Walk & Talk Therapy
We cannot solve our problems wearing the same shoes we wore in creating them.
Illustration Credit: Old Ladies and Dogs by Sarah Walton
I remember the moment it hit me. It was your typical 10-degree windy, wintry day in Chicago, and I was sitting in my pimped-out therapy office with a client, surrounded by the perfect Eames chairs, a cozy security blanket, and two inconspicuously placed clocks. My client was in the middle of a story she’d told me 20 times before, sitting with her shoulders hunched in defeat and her foot twitching with angst, and all of a sudden I felt I would suffocate in the stuffy, airless room. That’s when I heard myself blurting, “Grab your coat. We’re going for a walk.”
My client was shocked, and it was cold, but almost as soon as we hit the street, she came unstuck, and I knew with every cell inside of me that my chosen profession was no longer “talk therapy” but “walk and talk therapy.” That combination really has the power to unlock human potential.
When you are outside and moving, you burn calories, your endorphins spike, and you feel the sensory bliss of being outside. You’re constantly passing new scenery, which helps you think creatively. Your self-consciousness dissipates with each step. Walking also encourages people to come up with their own solutions, because the therapist and client become a team of equals rather than one of them sitting there in the almighty chair. Outside, we talk face to face, footstep to footstep, in the open air of possibilities.
Since that first walk, I’ve noticed that when my clients are walking through a park they might be telling me about painful events like a divorce or a job loss, but somehow they still felt good. Physiology is working in their favor, and they don’t seem so stuck in their story. The solutions you come to while in motion are different than the ones you think of while sitting still. They tend to be more real-world, and—maybe because they’re born out of action—easier to put into action.
I’ve now walked and talked with thousands of people, both at Miraval Resort & Spa in Tucson, and with clients across the country as part of the work I do with my company, Mind in Motion (Getyourmindinmotion.com). Each walk has been a catalyst for change, whether the client is an overstressed CEO, an empty-nest couple seeking to reconnect, or someone trying to understand the deeper issues behind their weight problems or struggling to let go of a painful divorce.
I also encourage my clients to bring in physical activity when they need to have a challenging discussion, whether it’s a personal relationship or a business meeting. Sure, there’s a time and a place for stillness: I wouldn’t advise someone who had just suffered the death of a loved one to get up and walk it out. But it’s amazing how many problems can be solved through the combination of nature, motion, and human connection.
This isn’t about working out, which is a different type of activity with a different goal, but rather about sustaining a level of movement that’s steady and calming. Everyone talks about physical toning, but we need emotional toning as well, a way to give the mind a rest from busywork and raise our body-centered energy. In talk therapy, the law of inertia works against us—the longer we sit there feeling stuck, the more stuck we get. But in walk and talk therapy, the law of inertia begins to work in our favor, for motion, once created, sustains itself.
Our bodies instinctively know how to self-heal, and if we give them half a chance, they can heal our minds as well.