The impact of the pandemic has made people change and adapt many things in their lives, and that includes their therapy.

The initial coronavirus lockdown and social distancing measures forced counselling largely out of the therapy room to online and phone.

But there’s another area of counselling that has seen an increase during the pandemic, and that’s taking therapy outside, often called walking and talking therapy.

Karen Pollock, who is based in the North East of England, says: “We’ve seen a rapid increase in counsellors and psychotherapists taking therapy outside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the guidance around good ventilation and the need to socially distance.

“It seems to be common sense you’d be safer outside with someone than in a small, closed room, facing them.”

What is outdoor therapy?

“Nature-based therapy, wild therapy, ecotherapy, outdoor therapy, walk and talk therapy are just some of the names for this style of counselling, where the great outdoors adds to the therapeutic process,” says Eve Menezes Cunningham.

The Institute of Outdoor Learning’s good practice guidance for working outdoors provides information on what to look for in your outdoor therapist.

It should only be offered by a competent therapist, if it’s suitable for the individual client.

Karen says there’s a distinction between counsellors offering therapy outside to mitigate against coronavirus and those who work with the natural world.

“Simply sitting in the park on two chairs, two metres apart, is outdoor therapy,” she says. “This is one of counsellors’ innovative solutions to continue working in these difficult times.

“It’s outdoors solely because of the pandemic, and neither the practitioner nor the client may want to particularly bring the outside world into the session.”

She adds: “I often reflect on the world around us during a session. This approach is taken to its conclusion in ecotherapy and nature therapy.

“This may involve interacting with the natural world in different ways, and your therapist would have specific further training.”

What can outdoor therapy help with?

“I find it most helpful for clients who are feeling stuck,” says Eve. “The movement involved in outdoor therapy can’t help but shift the energy around the issues they’re seeking support with.

“It can also be great with stress, anxiety, sleep issues and trauma because moving the body supports the burning off of some of those stress hormones.”

Karen adds: “In my experience it can be beneficial for anyone, regardless of the issues they bring.

“It’s particularly useful for people with previous negative experiences of therapy, victims of therapeutic or institutional abuse and clients who are stuck.”

What do you need to know before having outdoor therapy?

Wherever outdoor therapy takes place, confidentiality is still a vital consideration.

Karen says: “It may not be suitable if you’re walking around your immediate locality, due to the worries about being seen by friends and family.

“It’s easier to talk freely, even if there are others in the vicinity, if you’re sure they’re strangers you’ll never see again.”

Eve adds: “It’s led by the client in a way that’s different to someone coming to see me in a physical space. We agree a route in advance.”

A counsellor taking therapy outside needs to have conducted a thorough risk assessment. They need to make sure that you will find the route accessible and have suitable clothing and footwear. They also need to have a cancellation policy, particularly in the event of bad weather, as well as alternatives if you can’t meet in person.

Karen says: “Ask your therapist why they’re working outdoors and how this impacts the session.

“We work for you, and when it comes to taking therapy outside, it has to work for you. The great thing is that so many people are finding that it does.”

Eve concludes: “Outdoor sessions offer a change of scenery which can enable clients to see their issues in a different light.”

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