Tomas Van Reybrouck
My current practice consists of calling all my client and to offer them the choice between three possibilities: a) a conversation-by-phone, b) a video-call or c) a face-to-face conversation later in time. Rita was a relatively new client, a single lady with two teenage children, who was confronted multiple experiences of loss in the past. Some years earlier she suffered from a serious depression and had made a suicide attempt. She was referred by her general practitioner because of recurring depressive symptoms.
She wasn’t enthousiastic about any of my suggestions. To garantuee the continuity of care and because of the potential risk of suicidality I thought it wise to continue our collaboration.
From previous conversations I remembered how important moving is to Rita, also to get away from her previous depression. She told me that, apart from swimming, also long walks did her well (??). I have built up experiences over the past years with walking-supervision and hikes with groups of familymembers of people who suffer from addiction (van Reybrouck, 2017).
Among other things, I found that walking can provide inspiration for a more metaphorical question: ‘What are important goals for you? What are roadblocks on your way? Who or what gives you a boost? How do you deal with different choices (at an intersection)? With whom and with which places are you rooted (near a tree)? What do you believe in (at a chapel)?’ …
That’s why I added a fourth option for Rita: “We could experiment with a walking session (where we stay far enough apart). What do you think of that proposal? ” Rita replied quite quickly, “I cannot refuse a proposal for walking.”
We agreed to meet in a quiet place nearby near a wooded area. While walking we got to talking and bumped into a first issue, namely “What do we say when we meet someone we know?” In the moment or or afterwards. After some thought, Rita asked if it would be right for me to say, “That was my walking-therapist.” I agree. I propose, in turn, that because of the professional secrecy I would say something like “I am on a walking-meeting with someone from work”. Rita agrees.
We talked about everything. The classical themes, which are also discussed in a face-to-face conversation, were discussed. The walking route I had in mind was actually too short to fill an hour. We kept a firmer pace than expected. So we had to improvise a bit and expand the route with a few adjacent streets. Fortunately, Rita turned out to have a strong sense of orientation. With some detours we arrived at the starting point perfectly timed. The walking brought up a skill of Rita that would probably never have been visible in the therapy room.
After the conversation, I sat down at the computer and typed out a number of things for myself: themes that were discussed, topics for the next time, but also reflections that went through my mind after the walk. Instead of just keeping the notes to myself, I decided to email them to Rita. After all, it was about her. “The written record of a conversation has 4.5 times the value of a conversation for clients,” writes Vermeire (2009). Usually the time falls short to do this systematically, but the extra time that is freed up now also creates possibilities.
In addition to an overview of the topics we discussed, I also returned to her strong orientation in the mail. I added my reflections to it:
“In retrospect, I wondered whether your orientation skills can also be interpreted metaphorically: that you know in a way what is good for you and that you can rely on your own compass. Have you also realized the importance of walking and swimming for yourself? You may know what you want and where your needs are, but caring for the other person is sometimes given priority, so that your own needs and intentions threaten to disappear in the background. If you find that an interesting question, we could come back to it next time: “how to ensure that your own track gets enough space”?
And given the idea that the support of others is desperately needed, I added: “In order to pay attention to your own needs, sensitivities, dreams, etc., you may not only need your own compass but also others who notice, support and stimulate this. You made it clear that you sometimes miss that. We can also consider next time who your supporters might be or the people who help and support you. ”
Rita emailed back: “Thank you for summarizing our conversation so well. It even moved me… I take a lot of elements from it: especially the metaphorical compass. ”
We made a new appointment in the same place for a new walking session.
Knowing that there are all kinds of literature and websites about walking-coaching and that others are more experienced in this area than I am, I still wanted to share my modest experience. I am convinced that as therapists we can learn a lot by looking in each other’s kitchen. This of course requires that we occasionally open our kitchen to others.
This walking-experience was a small step for humanity but a big step for myself. I already knew that by walking and talking (walk and talk) we kill two birds with one stone. These are two beneficial activities that can reinforce each other.
Physical movement also provides mental room for movement. Due to the experience with Rita, writing has been added. Together they form a beautiful triptych. Sort of an alternative version of “paper, rock, scissors”: writing on a sheet, walking on a stone path and cutting words in a verbal collage.
It is good to be able to make a virtue of necessity. From the awareness of the limitations, we sometimes see new possibilities. Not only do we need therapy-by-phone and video calls, but we can also add walking conversations as an additional opportunity in some situations for some clients.
Tomas Van Reybrouck is klinisch psycholoog en systeemtheoretisch psychotherapeut. Hij werkt in CGG Eclips en als freelancer en opleider voor de Interactie-Academie. Hij is daarnaast als psychotherapeut verbonden aan groepspraktijk De Luwte.
De cliënt van Tomas (Rita is een pseudoniem) heeft de blog voor publicatie gelezen. Samen hopen ze dat haar kennis, vaardigheden én deze wandelervaring anderen mogen inspireren.
Van Reybrouck, T. (2017). You’ll never walk alone. Staptocht voor familieleden van mensen van met een verslavingsproblematiek. In Vermeire, S. & Sermijn, J. (Eds.). Wegen naar her-verbinding. Narratieve en dialogische praktijken. Interactie-Academie.
Vermeire, S. (2009). ‘You’ve got mail’. Werken met therapeutische brieven en documenten. Systeemteoretisch bulletin, 27, 3, 317-337. (Nvdr: Dit artikel is recent ook op deze blog gepubliceerd)