• The image often evoked of therapy involves a room and two chairs, maybe a couch - but therapy doesn't have to be this way

  • Therapist Lara Just explains how walk and talk, or outdoor, therapy works

  • Outdoor therapy is more Covid-secure and more of our members than ever are offering this service. You can now search for walk and talk/outdoor therapists using the welldoing.org questionnaire – find yours here 

The events over the past six months across the world have changed many things. Online working has become more popular and many people are desperate to get out and about and into nature, particularly those feeling stuck in small living spaces and in cities. This has also changed psychotherapy and how it is offered. 

Though I have been working outdoors and online for many years now with many clients all over the world, the demand has never been higher and many of my colleagues have now started to look into offering these formats of therapy. 

What is outdoor therapy, or walk and talk?

Basically, it means walking and talking during your therapy session, rather than being enclosed in a clinic room, sitting in designated chairs. This can feel quite intense for some clients, to have the therapist sit opposite them. Walking next to each other, side-by-side, even with the social distancing guidelines in the current climate, can for some feel more equal and less formal. However, walking isn’t a must, sitting down somewhere in nature is also an option. It means doing therapy outdoors, in nature, often including or bringing nature and movement into the sessions.

Walk and talk therapy is part of the eco-psychotherapy umbrella, which is the combination of ‘ecology’ and ‘psychotherapy’ or ‘psychology’. Within this field we find a variety of outdoor therapies and nature therapies, including walk and talk therapy, horticultural (gardening) therapy, adventure therapy, animal-assisted psychotherapy, like equine-assisted therapy (with horses) or canine-assisted therapy (with dogs) and expanding even further to include wilderness therapy and nature art therapy.

What are the benefits of outdoor therapy? 

There are many benefits to being outdoors in nature, from increased wellbeing, lowered anxiety, depression and stress levels, to reduced anger and increased confidence and boosted self-esteem. It has also been shown to be effective for loss and bereavement, and when going through crisis or transitions.

Some clients feel that it is difficult for them to talk, think or feel, while sitting still. They need to move their bodies and feel that talking comes easier while walking. Others find it too intense to be so closely looked at or find it hard making eye contact. Most clients who get in touch with outdoor or nature therapists already have a love for nature or enjoy walking outside. Many may sit all day in front of their computers or in offices and prefer to get outside and talk through things rather than sitting in another room.

With the current issues around Covid-19, and some wide-spread fears and changes around social distancing, being in a therapist's room, is another aspect that some do not wish to risk. Meeting outdoors seems a good option right now. This is particularly important to help us counter the effects of distancing and the lack of connection we have recently experienced. With that has come an increased sense of fear with anxieties around uncertainties in many areas of our lives.


How do outdoor therapy sessions work?

Before starting outdoor sessions, you may be invited for an initial online video or phones consultation. You will go through an assessment as well as your reasons for wanting therapy outdoors, and you will discuss important safety and confidentiality aspects around outdoor working. You will then agree where to meet at a location you agree.

Often it is not the therapist that takes you for a walk, the process is very much equal and more generally it is adapted to your speed and pace. Some therapists have a route that they like to suggest. I normally have a good feel for the surroundings and when I worked for a number of years on Hampstead Heath in North London, have given clients the choice to walk where ever they wish to walk, or sit, be on or off the path. When it got to half-way I will call time and may give options of routes, depending on pace, to get back to the initial meeting point in time. This helps with confidence with making decisions and letting go of needing to know, which is a part of the therapy process.

Nature will come into the sessions in various ways as metaphors, e.g. a path that splits, dogs bouncing past, birds, trees or other plants or places that may come to attention during the sessions. Eco-therapists believe that this is important information that can be revealing and helpful in the therapy process, in more effective ways than if sat in a therapy room. How we may choose to navigate paths, puddles, people, undergrowth, or whatever comes into our attention is seen as potentially important to the process and not a distraction. Often the meaning it holds for clients can be very profound and with that changes are often seen quicker.

How do I find an outdoor therapist?

When looking for an outdoor therapist the easiest way is to look for key search terms on common directories. These maybe: walking therapy, walk and talk therapy, outdoor therapy, eco-therapy, nature therapy and similar terms. There isn’t yet one single definition or term that outdoor therapists use. You can now search for walk and talk/outdoor therapists using the welldoing.org quick search or questionnaire here.

When you find a therapist to work with you outdoors, inquire about how and where they work so that you feel comfortable with that. Not all therapists offer a free initial session, so it may feel important for you to check. Make sure your therapist is insured for outdoor therapy work and is registered with a recognised professional body, such as the UKCP or the BACP.*

Lara Just is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Somerset, Hampstead and online

*All welldoing.org therapists are verified when they join the directory and once a year thereafter

Further reading

Why being outside is so good for mental health

Finding lessons and hope in nature during Covid-19

How green spaces reduce stress

Why walk and talk therapy works