• Getting into the countryside is good for your mental health and wellbeing

  • Therapist Eileen Wise goes one further: in Suffolk, she offers walking and talking therapy

  • If you are looking for a therapist, you can find one here

From a young age I was aware that being out in the open countryside was good for you, both physically and mentally. As a child I would always feel better for having played outside. I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm, so being able to run freely in the fields outside my home was second nature to me.

Now, many decades later, I have come to appreciate that being out in the elements really is therapeutically good for you. And that is why I offer my clients the opportunity of doing what I call “Walking and Talking Therapy” – which means exactly what it says, we walk and we talk. It does not suit everyone, as many people prefer the safe, cosy environment of my counselling room. But for those who feel constrained by the indoors, or who just feel they can open up more in a wide open space whilst walking through beautiful countryside, then walking and talking counselling is a great option.

So why does walking outdoors help when having counselling?  The mental health charity Mind carried out extensive research a few years ago which showed how walking in the countryside could help reduce depression and anxiety. In their survey they reported that 71% of respondents felt decreased depression and less tense after a “green” walk, while 90% felt their self-esteem increase after a country walk.  It is not just Mind that believes in the benefits of being out in green spaces - other mental health organisations and the NHS see the benefits. In fact any kind of exercise can help to reduce levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

Some clients are more comfortable walking and talking and find it easier to start discussing their problems when strolling along a country path. I am happy for my client to set the pace of the walk – if they want to meander along and have a relaxing walk that is fine, but equally we can set a quicker pace if that’s what they feel comfortable with. The footpaths are easy to walk and start from my front door.

I have found walking and talking therapy effective with people of all ages. Older clients who like to stroll along at a gentle pace find being surrounded by nature very reassuring. Some of my young teenage clients have found it a good alternative to being in my counselling room as they have a sense of freedom and feel more able to unburden themselves. Just being connected to the outside world can be beneficial, and walking and talking can help with numerous problems, not just depression and anxiety but loss and grief, or any kind of difficult life transitions you may be facing – personal, relationship-based, family or work related. Walking can help to ground you and that in itself is good.

I work in a peaceful area of Suffolk, near the villages of Clare and Cavendish, on a farm where we have numerous footpaths in the middle of beautiful rolling countryside. Sometimes we might see deer, rabbits and hares along the walk. I believe nature is intrinsically good for the spirit, whether we are troubled or not but especially so when we are struggling with problems. Perhaps you might have tried traditional counselling and it was not for you: walking and talking could be an excellent alternative. Or if you are nervous - as most people understandably are on their first visit to a counsellor - then have a think about considering the great outdoors for talking over your problems.

Further reading

How nature can increase productivity in the workplace

How to connect with the nature around you

Why does physical exercise improve mental health?

10 ways talking therapy improves brain structure and function