Anti Oppressive Practice and Walking Therapy

Some of my readers will be aware that as well as the more conventional forms of therapy, either in a therapy room, or online, I also do walking therapy – two people moving through the landscape as they also move through the emotional spaces and insights of therapy. It is increasingly popular, partly due to the pandemic, as people feel safer outdoors, and I think its popularity will continue to grow, as more people try it and find it works for them.

SInce last July I have been running training workshops, and about a third of each workshop is devoted to accessiblity. This is important I believe because part of being an anti oppressive practioner is to challenge, and dismantle the barriers to access which might prevent someone being able to attend therapy. Accessibility is so otften reduced to an unhelpful binary, removing a step, or declaring somewhere “fully accessible” rather than considering we all have differing access needs, which can sometimes conflict and overlap.

One of my concerns about the increasing number of people taking up walking therapy is that it is being presented in a way which cements the barriers to access in place, and encourages the idea that taking therapy outside is something only a privileged few will ever be able to do. So, a few basics;

Trees are nice, they are not anti-depressants

A nice walk will not cure mental illness

Outdoor Therapy can take place in any environment, urban or rural, and is still beneficial

If your style of walking therapy is not accessible to disabled people, with reasonable accommodations, you are breaching the basic ethical guidance of all of the bodies which regulate counselling in the UK.

I truly believe that most people are not even intending to raise barriers to access, it is simply that as a profession we are largely white, middle class, privileged and not currently physically disabled. The cost of training (which is far higher now than when I did my first pg-dip) means this is a situation which is unlikely to change in the near future. Cost of course can be itself a barrier to access, a tension which I constantly explore in my own private practice. It is not just the cost of sessions, being able to travel to a session, has a cost in time, money, caring responsibilities and other often unseen costs. The hollywood myth of someone being able to focus solely on their therapeutic journey, never derailed by lack of childcare, or lack of income, is just that – a myth.

I am not saying I have all of the answers, at this point it is more about asking the questions. It is heartening to see there are far more therapists today than 5 years ago acknowledging that structural oppressions exist, and are not going to be fixed in the therapy room. The rise of the activist therapist means there is a plurality of voices, all challenging and asking the difficult questions. Right now if we are to, quite rightly, champion the benefits of nature, of being outdoors, of connecting with the wider environment, then we also need to ask the difficult question, who is being excluded from these benefits, and how do we change that.

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