SENSORY TRANSCENDENTAL THERAPY
As research and practice in the field of counselling expand, there remain clear and positive results of current standard therapies. However, there seems to be a gap in the speed of progression in therapeutic counselling that could be improved with a more developed combination of therapies. Sensory Transcendental Therapy (STT) has emerged.
This therapy aims to engage the person out of their comfort zone; get outside of the standard Counselling room and develop an expanded awareness of how all senses engaged. Using STT the client moves physically to stimulate their body, mind and processing. The individual and therapist can become more aware of how the counselling discussion enhances or dims certain sensors of the person.
While standard methods of counselling show benefits, it can take too long to get major progressive benefits for some clients. Using STT and adding all sensors, stimulating mind and body and challenging them with pattern interrupt can create a more complete therapeutic tool. Many counsellors are not trained in this practice and to enhance client progression perhaps it needs to be part of the therapeutic training model. The therapy combines aspects of standard therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Solution Focused Therapy while considering research which tells us outside environments and movement allow us to process faster and with more clarity.
Sensory Transcendental Therapy (STT) is a form of psycho-therapeutic counselling session that is held outside the frame of a clinical counselling office. The client is encouraged to feel more at ease and take in nature (including sight, sounds, feelings, smells of the environment) during a side-by-side walk with a therapist. An outdoor walk takes the person to new and different places, out of their comfort zone and enables them to more freely discuss their issues.
STT can be likened to Walk and Talk Therapy (WTT), where clients are encouraged to walk side-by-side with the therapist in an outdoor scenario. Sensory Transcendental Therapy (STT) provides a more developed and structured approach, incorporating reflective pauses, pattern interrupts, analysis of body language and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Solution Focused Therapy while retaining the benefits of WTT. WTT has reported positive results for psychologists who have practiced it with difficult or ‘closed’ patients, many of whom find the enclosed one-on-one of a counselling room too intimidating to ‘open up’, understand and manage their issues (Doucette, 2004; Hays, 1999).
Movement has long been seen as an excellent supplement to therapy, with research showing vast improvements in the severity of depression diagnoses after periods of prescribed exercise (Danielsson et al, 2013). Building on this theory, simultaneous non-strenuous exercise and counselling have been found to be more effective in treating depressive symptoms than standard counselling (Jacquart et al, 2013).
Using the outdoors as a setting for psychotherapy has also been proven to have positive effects on the speed of breakthroughs with patients who find it difficult to ‘open up’ in a formal counselling scenario. When outside and experiencing nature, patients have reported feeling calmer and aware of their own thoughts and reported a generally more positive frame of mind. (Revell et al, 2014). The ‘frame’ of psychotherapy is a concept that a therapist has to be very aware of when conducting sessions outside the confines of a designated room. The ‘frame’ describes an image of confidentiality and therapist-client relationships, which must be adhered to in order to keep the safety and integrity of psychotherapy treatment (Langs, 1975). By taking the ‘frame’ of a session outside, the counsellor must ensure that the patient is comfortable with this and that the experience should be treated no differently than a standard counselling session. STT replicates and enriches all of the benefits described.
A one-hour therapy session could consist of a minimum 30-minute walk, with the client being encouraged to utilize all their senses by touching the flowers, smelling the air and viewing the environment. If the client feels any thoughts or feelings rising, a time pause to apply CBT as necessary.
A particular topic could be applied to a session, such as a rise in anxiety or an unexplained drop in mood. There would be a time to stop, sit and look directly at the person to enhance the therapy used, which would be CBT and solution focused. This 30-minute setting could then be evaluated, and the client asked if they want to continue walking for longer or if they feel more comfortable stopping. The STT sessions are designed to enhance the individual client needs. If the client expresses a major emotional moment during a session, this is when a pause would be suggested to interrupt the pattern of the thoughts. The issue would be addressed using traditional therapeutic remedies and more positive thought processes would be encouraged through reframing.
The inherent problem with traditional therapy is that most depressed or anxious people fail to see their available options during a time of panic; this leads to feeling stuck and lost. An outdoor setting is provided to show the patient a more relaxing view of the world, in the hope that they can see the ‘bigger picture’. It should also be noted that a client may also withhold thoughts and feelings from a therapist – this is part of the process. The patient’s body language and posture should be taken into account. Do they appear nervous? Are they interested in the environment, or withdrawing into themselves? How are they standing and presenting, hunched, head down, looking up, etc.? These should be noted and discussed at an appropriate time and changes in posture noted as therapy progresses. A mixed method analysis was usedd of client responses established that being outdoors, using STT was a very beneficial factor in progression and improvement.
In conclusion, there is currently little written on walk-talk therapy (WTT) and nothing on STT, as this is a new therapeutic concept, but all research does point to the advantages of the being outside and including movement in sessions. While WTT does include this, it differs from STT in that it does not seem to engage all sensors, environment or posture. Through my use of STT for over 2 years, clients’ responses have been enhanced and expedited. About 40 people have used STT treatments and the results appeared faster for those using STT. Clients involved had similar issues and needs.
Danielsson, L., Noras, A. M., Waern, M., & Carlsson, J. (2013). Exercise in the treatment of major depression: a systematic review grading the quality of evidence. Physiotherapy theory and practice, 29(8), 573-585.
Doucette, P. A. (2004). Walk and talk: An intervention for behaviourally challenged youths. Adolescence, 39(154), 373.
Hays, K. (1999). Working it out: Using exercise in psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Society.
Jacquart, S. D., Marshak, H. H., Dos Santos, H., Luu, S. M., Berk, L. S., McMahon, P. T., & Riggs, M. (2013). The effects of simultaneous exercise and psychotherapy on depressive symptoms in inpatient, psychiatric older adults. Advances in mind-body medicine, 28(4), 8-17.
Langs, R. J. (1975). The therapeutic relationship and deviations in technique. International journal of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
Revell, S., Duncan, E., & Cooper, M. (2014). Helpful aspects of outdoor therapy experiences: An online preliminary investigation. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 14(4), 281-287.