Walk and talk therapy

Reviewed by Laura Duester
Last updated 14th May 2024 | Next update due 14th May 2027

Walk and talk therapy, also known as outdoor therapy, is a concept that can be best described as taking traditional counselling sessions outdoors. It may also incorporate the outdoors environment as part of the therapeutic work, such as by using natural grounding tools or nature-based metaphors.

Walk and talk therapists work in a variety of outdoor settings, such as along the coast, in hills or forests, using local footpaths, and even walking around city/urban environments. Here, we explain more about walk and talk therapy, the benefits, and what to expect from sessions. 


What is walk and talk therapy?

Walk and talk therapy, also referred to as outdoor therapy, refers to talking therapy sessions that take place outside while moving. 

In this short video, walk and talk therapist, Annie Callingham, explains the benefits of outdoor therapy and answers some common questions. 

We recognise that the phrase ‘walk and talk therapy’ can be considered controversial. Many people looking for more information about types of outdoor therapy currently seek out ‘walk and talk therapy’ specifically. The terms used on Counselling Directory are those that are used in the UK currently by some people. We refer to these terms throughout, with the hope of supporting and reaching as many people as possible.


Benefits of walk and talk therapy

Walk and talk therapy can be an especially helpful method of working for people who don't have the opportunity to get out into nature very often and for those who feel as if they thrive better when they do. Having therapeutic conversations in the great outdoors, either while walking, sitting, or a mixture of both, can add a totally different and positive dynamic to the experience.

Of course, counselling in-clinic, over the phone and online still has a place for many clients. However, as the choice of how sessions take place must always sit with the client, it’s important to outline the pros and cons of walk and talk counselling and consider which option is best for you.

  • Outdoor counselling is good for those who may feel a little anxious or claustrophobic in the environment of a one-on-one session in a room -  the potential intensity of eye contact is removed for those who find it an uncomfortable part of therapeutic work.
  • When we move our bodies and shift our environment, we can think differently about aspects of our lives that have before seemed immovable. Being outdoors is a physically more relaxing experience for our bodies and, therefore, our minds may be freer to open up.
  • Working therapeutically outdoors can help with feelings of being “stuck”, as we are moving forwards in the sessions physically and there is a the sense of looking forward to the changes that clients want from therapy.
  • Being outside releases endorphins and is generally mood-enhancing, can support weight loss, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, speeds up digestion, and improves heart health.
  • Walking together side by side also means a sense of equality and union in the partnership between client and counsellor.

Working outside can be especially helpful for people who don't have the opportunity to get out into nature very often, and for those who feel as if they thrive better when they do.

- Annie explains more about walk and talk therapy during the pandemic.

Are there any drawbacks to walk and talk therapy?

Some clients may find walk and talk therapy may be too strenuous and exhausting. Some people also find the outdoors environment (including encountering other people, dogs, wasps, noises etc) to be distracting or overwhelming during therapy sessions.


Walk and talk therapy FAQs

What about the weather? 

Many therapists are happy to talk in any weather, but if you prefer not to, let your therapist know. If it is too hot or raining, they may be able to suggest an alternative.

What about confidentiality? 

Some therapists offer walk and talk therapy on private land such as farmland where you will be unlikely to bump into anyone else during your sessions. Others may use more public spaces. To maintain confidentiality boundaries, your therapist may suggest using a codeword or phrase to pause the conversation until you are alone again. 

What about boundaries? 

Although the physical boundaries are different, both client and counsellor must remember that they are still engaged in a therapeutic relationship. The working contract is still present and valid, even though you are outside. Professional boundaries are important for emotional safety and integrity and something that will be explained in the first session, just as though the session were indoors.

What if I’m not used to walking? 

Your therapist will walk as quickly or slowly as feels comfortable for you. You may decide you'd like to take a pause at a nearby bench or walk throughout. It's totally up to you as the client. 

What's the difference between outdoor therapies and therapy outdoors? Outdoor therapist and counsellor Sean Tierney explains the key differences and similarities and the benefits of both in his article, Outdoor therapy vs therapy outdoors.


Accessibility and outdoor therapy

Outdoor therapy is suitable for everyone, no matter what accessibility requirements or support you may have. If you are worried about accessibility, speak with your potential therapist before booking your first session. Sessions can often be tailored to use outdoor spaces that are wheelchair accessible, and are suitable for people with limited or no mobility, as well as those who may have sensory processing disorders. Working together with your therapist, outdoor therapy sessions can be tailored to suit your specific needs.  


What can clients expect from walk and talk therapy sessions?

Walk and talk therapists will typically meet you at the same time and place each week. They should also be able to advise in advance about the nature of routes used and will check if you have any medical or accessibility needs which may affect you during the session.

Sessions take place in all weathers, so make sure to wear appropriate clothes and shoes. It’s also important to bring any other essential items – such as a coat, umbrella, bottle of water, sun hat, asthma inhaler etc –  with you.

During the session, you’ll be able to walk along at a gentle pace whilst speaking about whatever is important to you. You can also choose to sit down or rest at any time – your therapist should be able to advise on suitable stopping places.

This page was written by walk and talk therapist, Annie Callingham in June 2021.

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