No, most people don’t need to be in a traditional office for psychotherapy. In fact, I will go as far as to say that an office might hinder psychotherapy progress in some cases. Now that I experience a very different dynamic in my work, I wonder if I might have served some of my former patients better had I walked side-by-side with them on the shoreline instead of sitting face-to-face in an office. In particular, those with whom establishing a therapy relationship was challenging, those who were weary of the therapy process, those who were too anxious or hyperactive to sit still, and those who felt intimidated and/or avoided eye contact. As for the rest of my former patients, I wonder if my work might have been more effective had I worked with them in a more soothing environment where they might have felt much more at ease, with a therapist would have felt more grounded and happy.
There are many reasons why conducting psychotherapy started in an office setting, mainly meant to protect the patient: to provide a safe and private space for therapy, to set boundaries where the therapist is the expert with the understanding that there won’t be a personal relationship, and to provide a stable, convenient, and comfortable environment for both parties. Though the office continues to serve all of these purposes, I don’t think it’s the only place where psychotherapy can be effective. In addition, I believe that, with therapists like me and people who are attracted to Beach Therapy, we might achieve even better results when we have our therapy sessions in a natural environment.
Thankfully, the stigma around seeking psychotherapy is on the decline and more and more people are talking about working with a therapist. Along with that cultural shift, I believe there’s a decreased need for privacy regarding mental health issues. Some even post their struggles on social media. I notice that the younger generation is more aware of their challenging feelings and more open to seek professional help. I believe that we are also evolving to have a cultural understanding of the boundaries within the therapy relationship. Therefore, I believe the risks that were once present are less prominent in psychotherapy now, which is why I think an office is not necessary in most cases. Having said that, I want to emphasize that I continue to hold the ethical guidelines for psychologists as the highest priority in my work.
Therapy outdoors doesn’t look any different than two people walking and talking. Aside from the inconvenience of being outdoors in the elements and getting our feet sandy, I find there are only benefits to working on the beach with people who are interested in Beach Therapy. I work on mostly uncrowded stretches of the beach where our conversation cannot be heard over the sound of the waves and the breeze. The fact that we walk also eliminate the possibility of anyone overhearing more than a few words at a time.
Several patients have wondered why other therapists don’t work on the beach. They find it so therapeutic that they cannot imagine going to an office for psychotherapy. I know it’s not appealing nor feasible for most therapists to offer walk and talk therapy, but I highly recommend finding a way to incorporate walking, movement, or nature in some form into their work.
This WebMD article summarizes my perspective quite well.