Many mental health professionals, informed by years of research, incorporate exercise into their patients’ treatment plans. It has been demonstrated to help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and it can also serve a function in work with trauma patients. Typically, psychotherapy is conducted in the office setting, with exercise serving an adjunctive, between-sessions role. Although far from the norm, a growing number of mental health professionals are now utilizing exercise during their therapy sessions. Walk and talk therapy, as it is commonly called, while still controversial, particularly given the concerns regarding confidentiality, is being praised by some professionals as a way to make gains that would not otherwise be possible in a traditional therapy office.
Kate Hayes, Ph.D., a walk and talk therapist based in Toronto, explained in Suzanne Wright’s article that there are a variety of benefits to walking while participating in therapy. She reported that:
It encourages a patient to be more physically active for mental and physical reasons.
It helps a patient get “unstuck” when confronting difficult issues.
It spurs creative, deeper ways of thinking often released by mood-improving physical activity.
As she continued, “’Some patients may become anxious when confronting something difficult in a traditional, seated, face-to-face interaction. Walking in parallel with visual distractions may allow for easier engagement.’”
While concerns regarding confidentiality persist, practitioners of walk and talk therapy feel the risks are minimal and are greatly overshadowed by the potential benefits. As research continues to explore the benefits of exercise in promoting mental health, perhaps support for the role of exercise concurrent with therapy will become increasingly robust.