What is your education and background?
My master’s degree in clinical counseling is from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. When I moved back to Maine a couple of years ago, I started my private practice, Appleyard Counseling, in Bangor.
2. How did this practice of going walking with clients start?
An opportunity to get some fresh air…need I say more? Over the course of my career, I have worked in wilderness therapy, alternative dispute resolution and education. Based on these experiences and the various settings in which I practice, I have observed the benefits of physical movement and time spent in the outdoors on overall well-being. Getting our blood and conversation flowing and being out in nature are all catalysts for feeling our best.
Health and well-being are the foundations of my personal life practice, and the focus of my ongoing growth and learning. I do not ask clients to engage in treatment modalities I do not practice myself. I continually collaborate with other professionals in the health and wellness communities around me.
The exploration of the mind-body connection and various healing modalities within both my personal and professional life have provided me with an in-depth understanding of the interplay between physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and happiness.
3. Where did you get the idea?
We are creatures of movement. Our brains, circulatory, hormonal, and nervous systems rely on movement to function optimally. The idea of purposeful movement is as old as our human tendency to overthink things. The integration of our physical, emotional and spiritual experience is essential for cultivating resilience. A key part of the human experience is learning to cope with the adversity of imperfection, dis-ease, grief, and uncertainty. Exploring physical movement enables us to observe our mental state with greater clarity.
4.How common do you think it is here in Maine?
There are therapists throughout Maine who utilize movement in their practices. In Maine we don’t necessarily shout it from the mountain tops or write a blog on the subject, but we do have incredibly intuitive healers and practitioners throughout the state. When I returned to Maine from the robust and expansive energy of the Pacific Northwest, I was reminded to settle into the nurturing and healing energy of Maine. There is a subtlety and an old wisdom of practicality locally that supports functional movement and experiences in the outdoors.
5.How many patients are you treating this way?
My practice is pretty fluid, and walking is one option for my clients on any given day. Sometimes there are benefits to making a cup of tea and sitting still. At other times, it is helpful to draw or write, which is best done in my office. During the warmer months, approximately half of my clients utilize walking in addition to other mindfulness-based practices.
6. What are the benefits?
Research supports the use of exercise to reduce stress, improve sleep, and to support overall mood management. Movement supports our well-being by releasing endorphins leading to improved moods. Exercise is often part of self-care or self-soothing skills that I recommend to my clients. The opportunity to walk together helps to reinforce and integrate in-session and outside-of-session behavior.
Time spent outside is another incredible benefit of this practice. Exposure to the elements grounds us. The use of our senses reconnects us with our creativity and resiliency. Being surrounded by the rugged beauty of Maine provides us with ample opportunity to explore what is going on within us.
7.Does therapy change outside of the comfortable room?
Some clients are more comfortable talking while walking side-by-side than they would be sitting in a chair across from me. While there is transformative power in being uncomfortable, as you might experience in a backwoods wilderness program, my practice maintains my client’s comfort. I invite my client to set the pace.
Walk-Talk therapy is a mindfulness practice that encourages steady breathing, relieves physical tension, and improves circulation. Mental benefits of this practice include improved brain health, stress reduction, and a decreased intensity of negative thought patterns. In all of these ways we see that therapy is enhanced when we are moving outside.
8. Are the clients who want walking therapy mostly women?
No, all sorts of people choose to walk and talk. Some clients work with me for a while before choosing to explore this option, while others seek me out specifically for this treatment modality.
9. What's the average age of patients you are treating this way?
Clients of all ages utilize this form of therapy. Teens and young adults dealing with ADHD or anxiety use physical movement to balance mental activity. They express increased insight and decreased feelings of restlessness. Parents of young children, with their child in a backpack or stroller, find an opportunity for self-care that otherwise seems improbable. Individuals dealing with trauma or depression benefit from the bilateral movement. Clients of all ages who live with insomnia and body-image issues are supported by this therapy.
10.Would you also run with them, or is walking the optimum approach?
The ability to comfortably maintain a dialogue is important in talk therapy. So, while I recommend movement in general to my clients for their self-care, a comfortable pace is important for the purpose of psychotherapy.
11.From your perspective, does the walking session make things harder or easier or different in anyway? For example, is it harder to keep notes of your session?
Initial meetings with clients take place in my office to briefly complete intake paperwork and an assessment. Otherwise, I tend to write my notes after each session and I accept payment through a mobile app, so there is very little in my office on which I rely. That said, I have a beautiful space and I work alongside wonderful colleagues.
With regard to confidentiality, I discuss with my clients pausing conversation until we are out of earshot of other people. I find my strong sense of professional and ethical boundaries are central in helping my clients feel safe. This is the foundation of our work together.
12. Do you do this with patients all year long?
Yes, I respond to the opportunities and challenges of each season as they arise. This aspect of my practice reflects the work I do in session with my clients to promote flexibility in response to change. This flexibility is a skill that promotes resilience. Walking on icy and snow-covered sidewalks can be a challenge during the winter months. However, there are options that make it more feasible. One opportunity is cross-country skiing. During some beautiful skis this winter I realized, with help from a friend, that incorporating winter movement into my practice is of interest to me. Winter is a particularly difficult time for my clients, and I see the need to be creative in how I adapt my practice to best support them. It is up to me as the practitioner to be creative and flexible enough in my practice to accommodate these options.
One of my favorite quotes by Pema Chödrön: “True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves, but from realizing our kinship with all beings.” Together we create compassionate communities and in turn support well-being for all.