To me there is something cathartic about going outside for a brisk walk.  For instance, when I am really stressed and need to clear my head, a walk in the neighborhood can help me become more lucid.  In fact researchers have found that movement, like walking, can boost creativity, enhance self awareness, and increase blood flow to the brain. Little did I know that this same strategy can work for students as well.  Case in point…

Shelia would often come to my office to “talk” about her lack of motivation in school and family issues.  Instead of sitting in a chair, she would anxiously pace around my office, pick up my papers, play with the stuff on my desk, and rearrange my things on the shelves (by the way, her activity would drive me nuts!).  I tried everything to get her to sit down and relax…stress balls, fidget toys, food, games–nothing worked.  So one day, I looked at her and said, “let’s go for a walk.”  At first she starred at me blankly, but then she didn’t hesitate to throw down my beanie baby and head out the door. We talked about how far we would walk and I told her I would need to be back in 20 minutes–she agreed. That first trip, we just walked around the school.  We went up the stairs, down the halls, around the gymnasium, and then we went out the back door to the parking lot.  About 10 minutes into our walk, she finally started to relax and we had our first productive conversation.  When we got back into my office, she seemed different and optimistic.  “I think I will go back to class now and work on that assignment. See you later.”   Oh my gosh, I thought, I think I am on to something.

What is Walk and Talk Therapy?

Walk and Talk Therapy is not new and something that has been promoted by therapists for clients who often “become blocked or overwhelmed” by sitting in an office. According to McKinney, in her 2011 dissertation on Walk and Talk Therapy, it combines counseling, walking, and often going outdoors to promote well-being. Although we are not providing therapy as school counselors, we are able to give students an outlet to be more physical while they share their day to day struggles.  While not all counselors and/or students may not enjoy walking for 20 – 30 minutes, it may be worth it to give it a try.

What are the Benefits of Walking on Mental Health?

Still not sold on the idea of walking with your students?  Let’s talk about the many health and brain benefits of physical activity. According to health experts, Tyler Norris and Taylor Koekkoek, there are many positive advantages that walking can have on a person’s mental health.  

1. Walking promotes cognitive functioning by releasing a protein that is crucial for sustaining memory and higher thinking (who doesn’t need that!).

2.  Walking increases a low mood by releasing endorphins that energize the brain.  In fact, just after five minutes of walking, a feel good effect begins to take place (that beats 30 minutes of unproductive talking in the office).

3.  Walking distracts from worry because the brain is able to immerse itself in an enjoyable activity.

4.  Walking increases energy levels and is more beneficial than consuming an energy drink which most students pick up when feeling lethargic.

Getting Started

Want to get started, but you are not sure how?  Just follow these simple steps:

1.  Always ask permission from the student

Some students will love walking with you and some students will be repulsed.  Just make sure you ask and don’t take it personal if they say, “NO WAY!”

2.  Re-establish rules of confidentiality

Whether you are walking on the track or sitting in your office, confidentiality still applies.  Also, respect your students’ space as they may not want you walking by them if they see their friends.  It is important to establish that criteria before heading out the door.

3.  Respect the student’s physical limitations

If you like to exercise, like me, you have to be careful not to walk too fast. If your walk is too robust the student will not be able to enjoy your conversation and will be ready to head back in.  Also, think about the weather outside (too hot, too cold, rainy), hydration (consider keeping some water in your office), and consider any allergies that both you and the student may be susceptible to during the year (especially during pollen season).

4.  Set boundaries

Before leaving your office, let the student know how far you are willing to go and how long you can be out of your office. My suggestion is to set a timer on your phone for when it is time to head back to your office.  Also, safety should always be your first concern when walking with a student around campus.  Therefore, it is always good practice to let your administration know what you are doing just in case there is ever any questions.

5.  Debrief

After the walk, ask the student how he or she felt about your time together and if it was productive and helpful.  This will help you gauge if this method was effective for working with this particular student.

Below, I am attaching a handout you can download to put in your office as a simple reference in case you decide to try this strategy with one of your students.  I hope you find this post helpful and I would love to hear your experiences if and when you decide to walk with your students.

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