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‘Walk and talk’ counselling boomed during the pandemic and a new study shows why it should continue

Published: 11 October 2022

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Two people walking down a tree lined street

Researchers from York St John University have looked at experiences of 'walk and talk' counselling in a natural outdoor environment.

The use of 'walk and talk' counselling has recently increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic combined with an increased awareness of the mental health benefits of the outdoors, nature and exercise. Whilst there is a growing body of research on outdoor therapy, there is very little specifically on adult walk and talk in the field of counselling, especially in the UK.

Lynne Gabriel OBE, Professor of Counselling and Mental Health and Erica Newman, York based counsellor and alumna of York St John, looked at the merits and limitations of walk and talk and whether it is a viable alternative to indoor counselling. Published in the Wiley online library, this study aimed to investigate how the client experiences counselling walking in a natural outdoor environment.

The researchers evaluated the client's lived experience of walk and talk counselling using online semi-structured interviews. Conversations with participants were analysed using the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) method.

 The idea of talking whilst walking in therapy has existed for many years, and even Freud is known to have utilised it in his work. Although it might not be the preferred choice for every client, the informality can be beneficial for developing new therapeutic relationships.

Professor Lynne Gabriel said: “It is accepted that most counselling sessions take place in an indoor space, with the focus on the relationship between counsellor and client, but practitioners are increasingly offering outdoor sessions. Whilst this method of counselling has boomed in recent years, there is no formal training and few guidelines to support counsellors in its use, so research like this and further studies are really important.”

Erica Newman said: “We found the general outlook on walk and talk was positive. It is a viable alternative to indoor counselling. It proved useful in a pandemic and for clients who would not consider indoor counselling. There was a feeling of informality and being on an equal footing with the counsellor, but these aspects did not appear to detract from the professional relationship.

“Walk and talk outdoors did not provide the privacy, stillness and feeling of safety for some participants to be able to show emotions and talk about difficult topics. Therefore, a blend of indoor and outdoor counselling might be preferred by some clients, or the option of a private place to pause outdoors.”

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