Walk and Talk….what’s that all about?
‘The first step to getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are’. (J P Morgan)
To be honest, when I first heard about walk and talk therapy it seemed like a really strange concept to me as a counsellor. My professional experience involved a confidential indoor space keeping external noise and interruption at a minimum. Additionally, there are the two comfortable chairs usually but not always facing each other. There are no trees, flowers, squirrels, birds, people or rain in the room with me when I offer sessions to my clients!
We all know how our environment can have a huge impact on our mental state and the counselling room is no different. Most therapists take the time to ensure their practice is welcoming, comfortable and confidential. Luckily, many clients find this conventional space supportive and helpful, however, for some it causes a range of difficulties.
Why choose Walk and Talk
Walk and talk can provide an alternative option for when the indoor space becomes too difficult to enter in to. This could be for many reasons including previous experiences of being ‘inside, enclosed, confined, restricted’. Everything that would be talked about and explored indoors can be talked about outdoors.
We all have changing needs at different times in our lives depending on what is going on for us. Even if someone is usually very comfortable being indoors, they may find being ‘out in the open’ enables them to talk about a particular issue they have previously struggled with.
On a more practical level, for those who wish to access counselling when working long hours indoors, being outside in the fresh air may be helpful in providing a welcome relief. Stress can also be reduced if a client does not have to think about travelling to and fro to a therapist’s office, especially if having a session in a lunch break or after work.
Alternatively, you may immediately reject this type of therapy as you struggle being outdoors and having unfamiliar people around you. However, walk and talk could be beneficial in supporting you whilst you ‘experience’ your anxieties. Your counsellor will be able to fully understand how you experience the world in the here and now whilst providing you with coping techniques.
There is no judgement from the counsellor on your reasons for seeking this type of support and being outside does not mean you are not having proper therapy! Walk and talk locations are chosen carefully so as to ensure the safety of both client and counsellor. These areas will provide space to walk freely but to also incorporate times when you may wish to sit or have breaks from talking. There are regular reviews and the client can always decide if they would prefer to move to an indoor space or have a combination of both.
Whether you decide on walk and talk or conventional indoor therapy, it is always important to meet with your therapist for an initial counselling assessment. This enables you to ask any questions or go over any concerns that you may have and for the counsellor to assess your needs fully.
Some things to consider before deciding on Walk and Talk:
- Weather and other distractions: come rain or shine sessions will go ahead unless there are extreme conditions and an issue with safety. You will also be experiencing possible noise from traffic, people and other environmental conditions.
- People: there will be other people about and it is absolutely fine for you to ask to sit somewhere, change direction or move to a slightly quieter place if you begin to feel overwhelmed or too upset. It is also possible that you will see people you know whilst you are out. It is important to spend some time thinking about how you would like to deal with those occasions and communicate that to your therapist.
- Health: walking in itself is great exercise and helps to increase blood flow to the brain. However, it is important to let your therapist know of any health issues that could affect this type of exercise.
- Boundaries: there are always boundaries agreed upon within the counselling relationship (indoor or outdoor). Walk and talk does not involve friendship or social meetings.
If you are unsure as to which type of therapy would work best for you, it is good to view the first session (indoors or outdoors) as a ‘stepping stone’. It may be that you will need to walk on a few stepping stones before you know what feels right for you but a counsellor can walk symbolically and physically with you as you go on your journey.
When you just want someone to listen…
How many times have you spoken to someone about how you are feeling and all you actually want or need is to be listened to? You don’t want the other person to necessarily respond or try to solve the problem, to ‘make it all better’ with a long list of things you can do.
It may be that you have spoken to someone and they immediately think of a time when they were feeling that way; making it about them. This can leave you feeling that perhaps they’re not really listening, understanding or caring about you.
When we try to let people know that all we want is a listening ear, they may wonder how that can be enough. When someone is worried about us, they want to feel that they can make things better and they want to be ‘active’ in that. However, if you are pushing away their attempts at this, they may start to see you as playing victim or wallowing in self-pity. In turn, you may begin to feel confused as to why you don’t want to hear solutions at this time, perhaps feeling guilty for upsetting them!
The simplest, yet at times most difficult, thing for loved ones to provide is to be present with the other and silent. They do not need to solve the mystery, set a plan of action for you or provide you with the answers. Maybe all of that can come later when you feel ready.
They don’t need to relate it to a time when they felt the same way, even though they may be trying to help you feel less alone with your anxieties. For you, it may just be enough to know that another person is ‘hearing’ you. They are standing in your shoes for a short while and then stepping out again.
Counselling can provide different types of support to different people according to their needs, but at the root of all counselling is the simplicity of listening and being present.
When we feel listened to, we feel visible. We feel valued. Answers may come later.
Why do we tell lies?
Can you remember the first time you told a lie? Were you very young or perhaps it was later in life, or maybe you have no recollection of that ‘first one’. Whenever it was, we will have all told a lie at some time or another in our lives.
We may have told a lie to save ourselves from a difficult situation, or a telling off from a parent/care giver. We may have told it so that we would not be rejected, such as when we are with our friends at school and we want to belong. It may have been a small one, what some people call a ‘white lie’ or it could have been a whopper. Whatever the details around it, most of us will have known that what we were saying was an untruth. In that, we would have had a physical and psychological reaction to what we were doing.
In some religions, to tell a lie, is a sin. Something to feel incredibly bad about, to feel guilt and shame around that lie/lies. We are a bad person’.
Lying is a tricky area because we know that lies can be told for positive reasons and with good intentions behind them. Protecting someone from a painful truth or wanting people to see us in a certain way, so they will not worry about us. Lies can be defensive; to stop us from being hurt by others when we are feeling vulnerable. Lies can also be told for very negative reasons; to manipulate, trick or abuse someone; to get our needs met without due care for the impact it may have on others around us; lying can be selfish, needy and cruel.
We may find ourselves in relationships with others who seem to lie constantly. Even when they can quite easily be ‘found out’ and the person does not seem to achieve anything by telling lies. It can be very confusing to live with this but if we try to understand some of the nature behind lying, it can help.
Pathological lying is a mental health issue and it can take over any rational judgement. This type of lying can produce an almost fantasy world where there seems to be an addiction to telling lies. For the outsider, it may be confusing, as there seems to be no gain in the lies being told. For example, this person may lie about how much money they paid for something in a shop or for a meal in a restaurant. This type of behaviour is usually due to a lack of trust in the world the person is living in and they will find relationships very difficult to maintain. They may also believe that they are being lied to constantly and lack trust in others.
Compulsive lying is again, a mental health issue but when this person tells a lie, there will be no emotion(s) attached, such as guilt or shame. The reason for this is simply because the compulsive liar believes the lie to be true. This type of lying quite often comes about through feelings of inadequacy/ low self-esteem and there can be links with possible alcohol and drug use. There could also have been a possible trauma in the past that may need to be worked through. With compulsive lying, it is important to get a professional diagnosis before seeking any type of help. If therapy is decided upon, it can be long-term but it can help to determine the underlying causes.
A sociopath is incapable of feelings around their behaviour and will not feel empathy for those they may be hurting with their lies. They even feel a sense of excitement at telling lies, creating a web of deceit. It could be done for fun or this type of behaviour could be used to commit a criminal act. With a sociopath, their needs come first and they will often blame others if ‘found out’. They can quite often be expert at creating a whole new web of lies once they have been discovered.
If you are worried about someone that you are in a relationship with or perhaps worried about your own need or desire to tell lies, please seek help. If therapy is decided upon, a professional therapist will not judge or criticise you for the times you have told lies. A therapist will also be aware that the lies may come into the therapy but they can be used to understand what is behind the lies.
Living with a narcissist…can it be done?
What is a narcissist? Is it someone who is very vain and thinks a little too highly of themselves. Of course, some people are vain and they get great pleasure from who they are, how they look and what they are about.
However, when we talk about someone with a narcissistic personality disorder, it is important to acknowledge, that this is a mental health disorder. The person in question will often be arrogant, manipulative, demanding and selfish; lacking empathy towards others. They will have an inflated idea of who they are and what they offer to the world. There will be a deep need for admiration/special treatment from those around them and to achieve this, they often create a facade of charm to ‘outsiders’.
A narcissist will enjoy taking risks in life, feeling that they are too clever or special to be found out and exhibit aggressive, defensive behaviours especially when someone points out their faults.
The story of Narcissus, a hunter and son of the river god Cephissus, comes from Greek mythology. He was handsome, admired and loved by those who met him but he felt contempt for others, paying them no interest. Whilst hunting, he was seen by a nymph called Echo, who immediately fell in love with him yet, when she tried to touch Narcissus, he rejected her. In her despair, she roamed the woods until there was nothing left of her but an echo. When Nemesis, the Goddess of retribution learnt what had happened, she decided to punish Narcissus by leading him to a pool, whereby he saw his own reflection and immediately fell in love with it! Initially, Narcissus did not realise it was just his own reflection but once he understood, he fell into a deep despair that this ‘love’ could never be realised and took his own life.
Whilst reading the above, there can almost be a ‘splitting’ of emotions towards Narcissus. On the one hand, you may feel anger, frustration, distaste for this beautiful man, who seems preoccupied with his own existence, unaware of how uncaring he is towards others. Yet, when Narcissus is punished for his behaviour, we can see his vulnerability and despair. Underneath the exterior, there was a person that could be affected by the loss of love and connection.
Perhaps we need to look underneath the behaviour of the narcissist to understand what is really going on within. This does not make living with this personality type any easier and it can truly be very difficult to maintain a congruent, loving relationship with this disorder. The exact cause of narcissism is not really known but when we look at the parent/child relationship and the years of development, the answers may lie there.
Parents or caregivers that put inflated expectations on their child, placing them up on a pedestal, expecting huge achievements, perhaps beyond their age and capabilities. Giving continual praise, either relating to the physical, psychological or both, can lead the child to develop an unrealistic view of themselves and therefore on others around them. There is also a huge pressure on them to always be beautiful, handsome, clever, better than others to be loved and accepted.
Of course, it is vital to nurture a child, to love and support them; helping them to develop a healthy ego and self-esteem. Unfortunately, there can be an imbalance and the ego can be unhealthily inflated. A developing child needs to experience failure and to have space for the imperfection that goes with being ‘human’.
Narcissism may also have developed through an experience of a very different type of upbringing. The child may have faced constant criticism and negative messages, neglect and abuse. This then may result in a personality that becomes self-contained and self-centred; a type of survival instinct. They become the most important person to themselves, developing an inflated idea of who they are as a defence against the trauma of abuse and the feeling of not being ‘good enough’.
Whatever the reason for the narcissistic behaviours, we can see that there is vulnerability underneath and we can also see that a healthy ego has not been allowed to develop. Living with someone with this disorder can be extremely demanding and distressing. Quite often, if you try to speak about your partner’s behaviour to others, they will become confused, as they see someone very different. You may find yourself describing to friends and family, a person who is controlling with bouts of rage and they may be experiencing a charming person who is great fun to be around.
It is easy to feel isolated and lonely in this type of relationship, especially if you have tried unsuccessfully reaching out and talking to those around you. Talking to a professional, who will listen with understanding and provide you with a supportive space, may possibly help.