What’s the deal with running therapy?
Honesty, 24 years have taught me, is much easier on foot. From raising that niggling irk with a partner to coming clean with a parent – there’s something about the motion and sense of space that makes life’s toughest conversations just flow.
And whether you tackle half marathons of half-hour morning shuffle-jogs, every runner knows there is nothing quite like the repetitive pounding of pavement or parkland for finding a bit of clarity. Isn’t that just the endorphins talking? Not according to William Pullen, celebrity psychotherapist and the UK’s first practitioner of Dynamic Running Therapy – a ‘holistic psychotherapy’ that draws on the interplay between body, mind, and emotion to help produce movement in all three.
After feeling the healing benefits of regular runs with a pal after a rough break up, the West London-based therapist developed DRT, and now runs regularly therapy sessions in London’s Hyde Park. DRT is gathering a steady groundswell of interest, which comes as no surprise in a city bingeing on wellness. Cardio? Check. Self-improvement? Check, check. But dismiss as a fad akin to cold-pressed kale shots at your peril: Pullen is on to something.Read more: The Healthy guide to running
‘Dynamic Running Therapy is proactive, so for people feeling powerless, depressed or overwhelmed it can be an ideal way to regain a sense of agency and direction,’ he explains, upon our meeting by the Serpentine Café. ‘Exercising together also increases oxytoxin for both therapist and client leading, so there’s more empathy. Even the exertion itself can help to bring up and process through emotion,’ he adds.
Sitting on the grassy bank, I’m asked to identify how my body feels, then my emotions. Next it’s a mindful scan of our environment and then the biggie – ‘What would you like to work on today?’ Don’t let the active element fool you, this is proper talk therapy, just on the move; getting fit is a bonus.
I set the slow pace of the jog (dodgy ankle) and the conversation (therapy rookie). This is crucial in Pullen’s method – if it’s right for the client, he’ll slow to a walk or even a sit down if they need to – but he argues there is real transformative power in moving when addressing the heavy stuff. ‘Movement allows us an added agility to move into and through trauma and pain – to process it – to get to know it, and learn to be with it,’ he explains.Read more: How to face your past to change your future
I can’t speak for trauma, but an hour certainly helps shift some of the murk surrounding my checklist of 24-year-old concerns. The repetitive motion acts like metronome, cutting through my brain’s natural inclination to think, then think, and think again when answering a sensitive question. But, because I’m setting the pace, there’s no sense of pressure. We crunch sentiments that took four sentences to say down to a matter of words. To complete the cliché, the morning smog even gives way to some welcome late-summer sun rays.
The verdict? Despite starting out as an emotional clam, after twenty 60 minutes I arrive back at our starting spot a little sweaty, noticeably settled and sold on its benefits. But you don’t need a west London postcode or budget that allows for private therapy to get them yourself.
Do try this at home: Pullen’s seven steps to doing DIY DRT with a friend
1. Find a friend you trust. Ideally one who will be happy to go at the same pace as you.
2. Decide who is listening and who is talking.
3. Remember the emphasis is on listening not discussing – questions are fine and useful, opinions less so.
4. Don’t feel the need to fill any silent moments.
5. Take your time. Be gentle and patient with yourself and your partner.
6. Notice how your body and your feelings interact.
7. Allow time to calm down physically and emotionally at the end.