After speaking with a member from The Counsellors Cafe an idea formed about writing an update to a blog I posted in the summer of 2013. A few things have changed whilst the basic idea has remained the same. Provide therapy whilst out in nature.
I am appreciating the artistry of walking beside another and timing reflections and points of interest in relation to the topics we are discussing in a way I hadn’t acknowledged before. I was asked at a therapists gathering in North London 2 years ago who I was. I would offer now that I am an artist: Painting a landscape filled with endeavour, colour and amour: A human canvas.
Walk and Talk therapy for me began its life after a difficult personal experience where I did not pass a probationary period with a new employer. I will write about this experience in a later blog post. I found myself in March 2013 seriously considering if I should continue as a therapist, if I had a future in providing psycho therapeutic support, and the way that I wanted to practice.
Asking myself these difficult questions I was left without any immediate answers or ideas of what could come next. Eating humble pie and completing simple psychological work like psycho-educational support (helping clients to be aware of their personal history, and how their history could have shaped inappropriate coping systems). Psycho-educational support work in a prison setting helped to ground me and make me aware that I was able to work as a counsellor.
My next step was to reflect on all of the experiences in my life and when I experienced flow in my work. I would describe flow as part enjoyment, feeling a sense of control, being competent, knowledgeable whilst being congruent with the self, flexible and adaptable to what may arise in a work day.
Walking in the Lake and Peak District with the Duke of Edinburgh’s award as an awards leader (2002-2006), coaching basketball with a wide range of groups in various youth settings, and a new found passion, baking bread were all experiences where I found flow.
I wondered in May 2013, if there were people in the world who practiced as therapists walking in nature. Completing a brief google search I came across a woman in New York City who practiced in the way I wanted to. My initial email to them asked a few questions in relation to the way that they practiced and what their experiences were like. The response from my enquiry was enthusiastic and there was an offer to be a source of support if needed.
To trial my idea, I enlisted a few friends who were willing to engage in psychotherapeutic conversations with me in local areas around Lewisham. I was fortunate to have 2 friends willing to work with me in this new way. Both found their experiences of walk and talk enriching and stimulated new thoughts. In comparison with other conversations with colleagues or family members in seated environments both male friends offered that they felt that the movement encouraged both thought and a progressive nature to the walking and talking.
Between July and August, I delivered close to 1000 leaflets to local businesses in Lee, Blackheath, Greenwich, Orpington, Bromley and Peckham. I was less than impressed with the small levels of interest this action generated. I had a few telephone conversations, but nothing that materialised into clients. My learning was that perhaps leaflet drops whilst useful to generate some initial interest were not going to raise the profile of what I wanted to do.
In August 2013 a few initial contacts with interested people developed into walk and talk clients. The routes for both clients were circular and enabled conversations that looked at developing core relationships with themselves which they had overlooked as a result of careers, children and increasing levels of responsibility in their lives.
There have been a number of experiences that stand out for me as a walk and talk therapist: walking and talking with 2 separate groups of men, engaging in a walking interview with an aim to show the interviewers how therapy whilst walking works and moments of clarity and synchronicity that arise at surprising moments.
2015 and onwards
In the past year 2015- 2016 I have had 3 clients opt to access walk and talk therapy. For two clients I have supported through all four seasons of the year. Some reflective comments from Ms W.
‘The thought of having a counselling appointment in a place confined by four walls seems strange now that I have experienced walk and talk therapy. If you are new to counselling, walk and talk therapy can feel more like meeting a friend, much less intense than sitting face to face to confront the difficult issues that are bothering you. Being outdoors amongst nature, and having the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what you will see on the walk helps to keep you in the present moment, and the activity of walking seems to facilitate an easy flow of conversation. So much so, that stopping walking feels very difficult!’
Ms B’s comments ‘This type of therapy (Walk and Talk Therapy) is best suited to me as it has allowed me to be more expansive in expressing and exploring the issues I bring which need unpacking. Having experienced both CBT and psychotherapy in the past I am not suited to a restrictive space I like the revolutionary potential of what walking and talking therapies has to offer.’
‘I began in the space that was supportive and small and I needed that at that time. As I have grown through and with this therapy being in new outdoor spaces allows me to control my own destination which is relevant to exercising growing control in my life.’
With each of the seasons I would offer that the influence of the weather can have a positive impact on the work.
I was fortunate to meet another therapist who works in the natural environment who has developed Wild in The City. The meeting took place in a hidden gem of a park in South London: South Norwood Country Park. As we walked and discussed our interests in therapy and supporting others we had a chance to appreciate the natural beauty of the park including a robin that appeared to be following us and a cherry tree that was bearing fruit. The conversation further confirmed my interest and awareness that conducting psychotherapy in open spaces could be just as effective as traditional room based psychotherapy. Visit www.wildinthecity.org.uk for more information about Wild in The City’s work.
A few tweets on my experiences with weather
I can appreciate after 3 years of working as a Walk and Talk therapist the nuance of the work and am able more often to allow the setting of the walk to offer some influence, frame and context to the work. The environment almost plays a 3rd person role much like in counselling training: Counsellor Client and Observer.
Ms W. ‘Sometimes the other people or animals you encounter on the way can be distracting, but I have found it an important reminder that whatever my problems are, life still continues the same all around you.’
Ms B. ‘The therapy is not unconstructed; we explore techniques such as tableau mapping and tapping (EFT) which I try to implement away from the space. M continues to encourage me to bring my own ideas to the space so therapy is not reductive. Walking and talking therapies is best if you want to be guided through and not be led to resolution.’
The conversation with The Counsellor’s Café highlighted the effect of having a similar point of view whilst walking and talking with a client, that feels collaborative. Whilst walking a client is able to identify the focus and begin discerning what is to be worked on for that appointment and what could be left for another time.
I enjoy the sense that analogies and reference points blossom during the appointment and these moments are unplanned and spontaneous. Working in this way reinforces the idea of remaining reflexive to the work, capable of working with what the client brings and with what the environment provides.
Whilst my experience of being unsupported and excluded from one working environment was painful I was able to fully utilise my imagination to create a fantastic new way to work with clients, much like an artist.
Michael Opoku-Forfieh is an experienced integrative therapist who utilises a range of techniques including; person centred, psychodynamic, CBT, Walk and Talk Therapy to support you therapeutically. I approach psychotherapy creatively. I work with clients in a holistic way to resolve concerns.
Get in touch with Michael via his website here