Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Walking is therapeutic ... but can it replace the shrink's couch?

Hands up: how many of you out there have enlisted the services of a professional for psychological / emotional issues?

Hmm ... I'm squinting into the distance, and I'm not seeing many hands. OK, yes, psychotherapy is expensive, and not everyone has extended health coverage for that particular kind of care (I bet they have it in Sweden!), and finding someone competent and compatible to treat psychic ills is a whole lot harder than getting a bout of strep throat seen to ... so how about this: who out there will freely admit to having needed such therapy at some point?

Yeah, a few more hands, maybe ... but I'm still squinting (and yes, I need new glasses, but still). Does that mean the stigma associated with psychotherapy is alive and well ... or is it something else?

Do we go along with Kierkegaard when he claims, "I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it"? Can a few kilometers in a good pair of hiking shoes do as much good as a few hours on the proverbial shrink's couch?

Is it fair to say that the kinds of psychological problems that Woody Allen films obsess over are just a "luxury" of the modern, industrialized world, of people with leisure and abundance enough to develop such problems ... sort of like tennis elbow and gluten intolerance?

Is focusing on such problems narcissistic? Does it turn our attention away from the problems of other people and the planet in general?

Or does dealing with the in-house issues make us better equipped to respond to the needs of others?

I dunno! But, for the sake of argument, and with all due respect to Dr. Kierkegaard and his formidable (literal and philosophical) shoes, I'm going to say that, despite the great benefits of walking (running, rolling, ruminating, etc.) as a means of working through problems, sometimes the help of a trained, objective professional (or a skilled layperson) is just what the Dogter ordered. 

We're not Freddies (well, I'm not, anyway) — blissfully coccooned in an ever-friendly present, with (so far) nothing more threatening to cope with than a few vaccinations in the rump. Human existence is fraught, the human psyche is complicated, and the seeking out of professional help for emotional/psychological "stuff" shouldn't occasion any more embarrassment or judgment or cost or complication than a visit to the walk-in clinic for that case of strep throat.

Here's my good friend Andrea (pronounced the Spanish way) with a blissfully muddy Freddie. We're all getting some forest therapy here!


So. Is my own hand up for those questions I asked above? Oh, yeah. Over my adult life I've had professional help with marital breakup, hypochondria, and diabetes burnout — convenient labels for complicated constellations of issues.

Add to those a few things I probably should have sought help for, but, for one reason or another, didn't/haven't, and, yes, I think I qualify as someone who benefits from the psych branch of the healthcare system. Not every counsellor/therapist I've seen has been stellar, yet I think I've taken something useful from every experience.

And now? Well, without going into the nitty-pitty details (Walking With Freddie is not a bare-all blog!), I'm interested in talking to an objective expert about this particular, er, stage of my life (a life which is almost certainly more than half over — as evidenced by my need for new glasses, among other things).

I wouldn't exactly call it a "crisis" — I'm not shopping for a convertible or planning to leave Paul and Freddie to go find myself in an ashram — but I have, this past year or so, been pondering some Big Questions and feeling more than a little, oh, uncertain ... and sometimes stuck (as in unable to a- get revved up about or b- choose between the various worthwhile things I could be doing with myself and my time).

Paris! I'll go to Paris! Again ;-)

Is this midlife malaise, or is it the cumulative effects of technology, convenience, and abundance taking their toll? I dunno, and maybe the friendly therapist I've signed on to rap with won't know either.

But if these (extended-health-covered) sessions manage to give me a new perspective, a kick in the butt, a strategy or two for dealing with episodes of BeenThereDoneThatism or (in a different mood) attacks of TimeIsRunningOutAndThere'sTooMuchLeftToDo, then I think they'll have been worth the while.

Andrea and "El Peludito" (the Little Furry One), looking blissful

And, hey, if any WWF readers out there have any thoughts on the matter,
 we'd love to hear from you.

(which is as close as I'm getting to ashram lingo for now!)


  1. Yo.
    *both hands up in the air*
    problems are huge in my life. in the past, present and no doubt future.
    I am at a turning point currently. I've been to therapists before (my own marital breakdown) and right now I feel like I could use it. Just one thing.... I can't bring myself to bother. It's a lot of work to find someone, someone that will help. So I go to friends, husband and inwards.
    Bigger problem... no duration of bike ride eases my anxieties. Hours and hours a week and still no peace.

    1. Yeah ... major work to find someone good/compatible etc. And the worse the problems are, the harder it is to find the energy etc. to go looking.

      Weirdly, my best therapy experience so far has been with a guy I was randomly assigned to through some kind of workplace wellness program. I'd turned into a total hypochondriac (delayed reaction to my T1D diagnosis, maybe, plus other issues, no doubt), and he was great. Go figure.

      And, yeah, I'm with you re. exercise as therapy. It's good for easing acute pissed-offness, I find, but not so helpful for other stuff.


What say you?