My personal experiences of Walking EMDR Therapy

“Necessity is the mother of invention” cited Sally-Ann to me. If one phrase encapsulates how we have had to adapt in the last two years, it is certainly this one.

While the spotlight has truly been shone on the virtual world and how sessions have moved online, there has been little mention of the trend towards holding sessions outdoors while walking.

During lockdown I had a patient presenting with an acute depressive episode and we were working on getting her moving again (literally) to help lift her mood. The CBT therapists amongst you will identify this as behavioural activation. Her goal was to go for a daily walk so it made sense that on her therapy days she requested that we kill two birds with one stone and have the session while walking. I was more than happy to oblige as I’d been contemplating doing this for a few years.

Initially, we were working within a cognitive behavioural framework but during one of these sessions an unresolved trauma revealed itself and we agreed on EMDR with the method of BLS to be mindful walking. I should say that we had previously done EMDR in the therapy room, so it wasn’t a new experience for this person. She knew what to expect.

Now, I do not profess to be the inventor of walking EMDR therapy or any kind of expert. However, I found that having used the route frequently with her and set up some boundaries prior to beginning the session, I could apply the standard protocol very effectively. In short, it worked a treat and we have continued to hold walking sessions ever since.

When I then decided to expand the client group I was working with in this way, and knowing that clinically there was greater complexity involved, I realised that I would need to formally set this up. I compiled a risk assessment and consent form to accommodate the differences in therapeutic environment. Once completed, it occurred to me that I might not be the only therapist considering this. I mean, no point reinventing the wheel, right?

So, when I offered to share my templates for these documents to the JiscMail community I honestly expected around half a dozen requests. It was, in fact, closer to 70. This told me that there was a lot more walking therapy going on than first predicted or at least, more people were considering it as an option. It occurred to me that perhaps other therapists like me, for various clinical reasons, could not see some of their patients virtually or in the room due to Covid restrictions and had begun to trial walking therapy as an alternative to putting treatment on hold.

I have genuinely found it to be transformational particularly for the more dissociative clients. My own theory is that being in nature, unconstrained by four walls and moving forward, literally and metaphorically, appears to create a greater sense of calm, agency and grounding.
I emphasise here that it is simply my own theory drawn from some limited experience of providing this therapy.

When I was looking for formal research into walking EMDR therapy I came up with a big fat zero. That is, apart from Lorraine Tindale who is currently working on a PhD and is, I believe, developing a specific protocol as I type ( ). Lorraine is developing the walking EMDR protocol with Marilyn Luber. Lorraine is happy to discuss her research and is also planning some training on her new protocol – research allowing. Watch this space.
This is truly exciting. I mean Francine was walking in the park when she discovered this wasn’t she?!

Jo Gresham-Ord,

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