Counseling + Running = Running Therapy

By Natae Feenstra on 4th Jun 2020

Health is holistic. It is essential that both the mind and body are considered for wellness. From a mental perspective, counseling is a service embraced as a positive change agent. From a physiological perspective, running brings well-known physical benefits. Additionally, running supports mental health. Running Therapy, a combination of counseling and running, can be a dynamic tool for holistic change.

Running Therapy is a researched alternative to traditional counseling and has been around for over 50 years. During a session, the counselor and client meet at a designated park or greenway. After initial stretching and check-in, the run begins. The run is always catered to the client’s ability and is never about pace or distance. Walking is OK. No prior running experience is required. The run is held at conversation pace to facilitate therapy. The last minutes are devoted to cool down, stretching, and reflection. Talk therapy occurs all throughout.

The mental health benefits provided by running are extensive. Running increases blood flow to the brain by 20%. Positive outcomes are a result of this “washing” of the brain with freshly oxygenated blood. Research supports prolonged running can trigger the release of endorphins- our “feel good” brain chemicals. Furthermore, the repetitive movements cause neurological changes that aid in thought processing. Running has also been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression and trauma. Additionally, running is ideal for a mindfulness practice as a movement meditation, as thoughts are naturally fluctuating between associative and dissociative states.

Running Therapy is unique in other ways. The setting makes a positive impact. In traditional therapies, clients are limited to an office setting. In Running Therapy, the outdoors naturally provides additional mental and physical benefits. There is also a variation with body language. Eye contact is usually a key component of therapy- not with running therapy. The side-by-side placement of counselor and client make for lessened eye contact. Some clients prefer this interaction, as eye contact can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Also, the movement of running encourages verbal expression of thoughts and feelings. Of course, like traditional therapy, the atmosphere is always one of non-judgment.

Combine running with a mental health professional and the opportunities for holistic change are even more significant. I am a middle Tennessee native and Running Therapist. As a licensed professional counselor, I have over 11 years of experience in counseling, and I am currently working on my dissertation on running and mental health. I take an integrative approach to therapy and utilizes Running Therapy, Choice Theory, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

As for running, I have some experience there, too. I am a Certified Running Coach with the Road Runners Club of America. I also lead Learn-to-Run women’s groups with a social support component in Rutherford County. A dedicated runner since 2002, I have run all race distances from the mile to the marathon, road races, trail races, relay races and more. I also have experience running with kids and individuals with disabilities.

Run for your Life is a combination of my passion and expertise, therapy and running, and I wish to serve Nashville and surrounding areas with Running Therapy.

If you are ready to Run for your life, to better your mind and body, more information can be found at www.run4yourlife.net, Instagram: runforyourlifetherapy, FB: @run4therapy, or Twitter: @NataeFeenstra.

Related article: Can music therapy help with your mental health?

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