Psychotherapist William Pullen is taking his therapy sessions out of the practice and into the park, putting emotion into motion as he helps clients discover the benefits of dynamic running therapy
William Pullen works to help heal traditional areas of unhappiness and issues such as addiction, anxiety, trauma and depression. He also has great experience of guiding clients through painful life changes or sudden decreases in motivation. As an integrative psychotherapist, he often combines his humanistic approach with contrary methods of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.
And yet with certain clients, William has developed a completely new arena for his therapy sessions. He swaps the comfort of the therapy room for the green open spaces of his local west London park and takes his clients running.
William realised the benefits of literally running through issues 10 years ago, while out on runs with friends. Talking through exercise helped him to bring up internal issues and work through them. Either it distracted him from the run or the run distracted him from internal stress, but William found it easier to speak his concerns out loud.
The duration also meant he could carry on such intimate conversations for more than a few minutes – a feat he says challenges most clients, especially men. By pushing clients to run through a park, he begins the process of actualising the internal journey he wants them to be on.
“Most of us,” he argues, “go for therapy to move through life-blocking obstacles, and embodying that journey can be incredibly healing.
Most of us go for therapy to move through life-blocking obstacles, and embodying that journey can be incredibly healing
“Clients are not just sitting in a static room with a therapist. Instead, we’re working together in an organically shifting landscape, fusing body and mind. It’s a uniquely holistic therapeutic process. We move physically through the park while working mentally through problems.” William likens the process to a long road trip, where sitting next to one another in a car facilitates conversation.
He usuallty holds client sessions in west London parks, but makes sure to have an indoor plan if gloomy skies interrupt his schedule. He still works from an office for more than half of his services, but he wanted to try a form that encouraged clients to move past their obstacles both mentally and physically.
The physical nature of his therapy can be intimidating for non-runners, so William works with patients to ensure a productive, client-led session. He begins sessions with breath and mindfulness exercises, and lets the client set the pace.
“It’s as much about walking and sitting as it is about running. If a client doesn’t feel comfortable running a lot, we’ll talk while we walk,” he explains. However, he does set one condition: “I do try to get the blood moving, I think it’s the sense of being motivated, of enacting, of pushing oneself, that creates a change.”
Moving side by side with a therapist also reworks the body cues that some clients develop within office-based sessions. Fidgeting, for example, is replaced by other potentially unconscious yet direct physical actions. Did the client start speeding up to run away from the conversation itself? What’s going on today that’s causing a sluggish physical attitude?
“I’ll reflect [that change] back to them to see if they’ve noticed, since a lot of people won’t, and we’ll sit and talk about that for a while, to see why it was,” William explains. “A lot of people are not that emotionally literate. Bodily changes can inform them in a way that talking in my office very often doesn’t.”
Running therapy naturally attracts a self-selecting client base. William says, “Someone who knows they just need to break down in a safe environment won’t ring me for a DRT session. It’s certainly not for everyone and I still see the majority of my clients in an office-based environment. But DRT focuses on physically creating the emotional journey some patients want to achieve in nature and amongst the elements.”