Practitioners who use a technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to treat people who have endured a traumatic event(s) have commented to me about the potential benefit of walking for PTSD. EMDR is based on the idea that stimulating both hemispheres of the brain can facilitate emotional processing of the traumatic event. Since walking stimulates both sides of the body, hence both hemisphere of the brain, it might be beneficial in processing and healing from traumatic experiences.
In addition, nature is a fluctuating context that offers an opportunity to learn and practice skills learned during therapy in a more real-world setting. Whereas in traditional office settings, these skills are taught in a static, artificial environment, such that their application to real-world settings requires a bigger leap. One of the questions I receive has to do with providing patients who suffer from PTSD or any severe symptoms with a “safe” space in a public place. I, myself, was concerned about this prior to working with patients who have a history of trauma. What I have seen is that those who choose to work with a therapist on the beach tend to feel safer in an open, natural setting versus a confined office. Though they may feel hypervigilant around strangers and they sometimes have panic attacks in session as they’re processing their intense emotions, working on the beach gives us the opportunity to address real life challenges on the spot. As providers, we strive to replicate real-world situations in session, even inducing panic attacks, in an effort to offer our patients the opportunity to practice their coping skills. The beach offers the safety for the self-selected individuals as well as provides opportunities for exposure and practice.