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  • Deidre Ryan-Glass

The Sound of Snow - a Walk and Talk Session

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

The natural landscape offers so much for mental health and well-being. Seeing the horizon, the diverse landscape with its flora and fauna, the blue sky, being tested by the elements, building resilience to the unexpected and uncertainty of life as reflected in the Scottish weather! It demands more of us than a conventional context as both Client and Counsellor walk as equals on the terrain, work with temperature variation and face the changeability of the weather. It certainly reveals our character at times!

I started out my Walk and Talk Therapy with a former client who had come to me for counselling sessions while I was a trainee therapist and later after qualifying, asked to come back for more sessions. After tending to the health and safety requirements in terms of risk benefits and assessment for outdoor based practice, I couldn't wait to trial this approach. I needed a test subject to walk different routes and accessible terrains from forest to sea, that would provide adequate privacy for confidentiality. I also needed their input around how they found it being outdoors. And so in this former client, who gladly agreed to go outdoors, I had found my test subject!

On the morning of our planned coastal session, it started out as a clear, blue sky day and looked to be a promising scenario. I could not have imagined, that later, it would cloud over bringing snow at sea level but snow it did. Great big, slow and heavy flakes of snow, the kind you can stick your tongue out and wait for it to land and dissolve on your tongue. As I drove to the agreed location, it was already falling steady. I anticipated the client wanting to reschedule but to my delight, they didn't.

Instead they shared an aspect of themselves I hadn't found in the therapy room. Suddenly there was a softer side that expressed the delight in hearing the soft crunch of snow underfoot. A sensory experience they found pleasing. The client shared their appreciation of watching the landscape shift and change and their keenness to be outside in such weather.

Over the six weeks of Winter merging into Spring, we walked and they talked. I listened to hopes and dreams, aspirations, adaptations after life had irrevocably changed, the highs and the lows. I witnessed and reflected back the emerging optimism despite life's set backs and that the dreams were still there.....And I heard about how easily things shifted and changed, how mood altered and stressors presented and dreams sometimes felt out of reach. All of it. From the positive outlook like a bright sunny day to the darker times that demanded a "scaling back" and simplification of life, more adjustment. The landscape seemed to just allow a natural ease, and the guy who often played the joker in the counselling room when it came to the harder parts, was able to connect with a sincere appreciation of life, good and bad and be more at home with the process.

As a Walk and Talk Counselling practitioner, the choice to go outdoors is proving to really serve as I observe those attending for sessions improve their lives . It sets the relationship on a more equal footing from the beginning and diminishes the sense of clinical-ness that may exist in a more conventional setting. Whilst the outdoors can be vastly spacious, there is still a container of safety, agreements in advance that support the indvidual to be at ease and share what they need to share.

While there are additional things to navigate in the outdoors like uneven terrain, tree stumps and root systems become furniture to rest a while and something bigger than ourselves holds space to establish perspective and shake off disturbances in the nervous system. As we move through the material of challenge step by step, the experience becomes one of feeling fully supported, a realisation of not being alone.

It seems the outdoors invites a person to find out even more about themselves as they move in the elements. For instance, greater insight to their resistance or acceptance of life challenges as mirrored in their response to unexpected weather, weather one might ordinarily choose not to be in, if given that choice. And sometimes life doesn't offer us choice. But it does offer us ever present change. It is honing our ability to be with and embrace this change that ultimately liberates us from our life distress. Nature is a great support system for this process as it soothes our nervous system out of sensory overwhelm into regulation. It is simply a win win.

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