Aaron Rochlen, Ph.D.
Being a walk therapy provider comes with many perks. One of my favorites is our unique workspace. Being outdoors is not only beautiful – but healing, for client and therapist.
And then there is our wardrobe selection. Working outside, requires a diverse and flexible set of threads to deal with the ever-changing weather.
When we walk, sometimes it’s clear and sunny, other times it’s cold and miserable:
Just like therapy and our lives.
I’ll often emphasize this weather/therapy metaphor with my clients. Through what I wear to my approach to each session, I aspire to join with my clients. This therapeutic goal exists regardless of the “temperature” of my client’s mood or what they are discussing.
But being outdoors provides an additional, perhaps less obvious benefit. Walk therapy can help neutralize problematic dynamics that can impact the depth and scope of our work.
Through our training, counselors are frequently reminded of the importance of being aware of complex power dynamics that can emerge in counseling. We strive to neutralize or avoid hierarchical setups where clients feel they are in a “step down position” to their therapists.
While skilled therapists are able to do this, it’s not easy. And for clients who visit is us in traditional spaces, the challenge is real. When clients enter our offices – they do just that. They enter our offices, our space.
In doing so, clients are asked to share their vulnerabilities (and much more) in a setting and space occupied by someone else. Our office space is influenced by our design preferences, our furniture and lighting choices. Clients, even if unconsciously, take this information in.
And here is one important area where walk therapy differs. When I walk with clients, they are not entering my office – we walk together. We move forward, literally and metaphorically, on the same path. And the space we work in is collective.
The therapeutic work is taking place in an environment that is natural and neutral. This nature-based assist can make a difference in the therapeutic relationship, tighten a connection, and yes minimize power dynamics.
Shared ground = Equal ground.
Keeping these points in mind can be helpful in walk therapy or your traditional practice.