The ap­peal of run­ning with the ther­a­pist

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Robin Ab­car­ian Robin Ab­car­ian, Los An­ge­les Times

The psy­chother­a­pist was in run­ning gear: black tank top, black leg­gings and black shoes. Her hair was pulled back. She car­ried only her phone.

Leav­ing her of­fice in Re­dondo Beach, Sepi­deh Saremi crossed a cou­ple of streets, walked down a slop­ing path to the beach, then be­gan to run north, to­ward the pier.

Had I been her pa­tient, that’s when our ses­sion would have be­gun.

As we ran along the edge of the ocean, Saremi pe­ri­od­i­cally asked me if I was OK, if the pace was good, if I was com­fort­able. I had a feel­ing that she was also re­mind­ing me that we were not pals, which struck me as en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate.

Run­ning, I’ve learned over the decades, is the best kind of ther­apy. You al­ways feel bet­ter af­ter. Com­bin­ing it with ac­tual talk ther­apy, as Saremi does, seems like such an ob­vi­ous prac­tice, I won­dered why no one had

Ethought of it al­ready.

Turns out, a hand­ful of ther­a­pists around the world al­ready have.

But Saremi, who was born to Ira­nian par­ents in Ger­many, didn’t know that when she be­gan tak­ing male clients for walks. She had re­cently grad­u­ated from UCLA with a mas­ter’s de­gree in so­cial wel­fare and was treat­ing Far­sis­peak­ers in a com­mu­nity men­tal health pro­gram run by Jewish Fam­ily Ser­vices. It oc­curred to her that get­ting out of the tra­di­tional of­fice set­ting might be help­ful, par­tic­u­larly for some of her male clients, who did not seem com­fort­able in the tra­di­tional ther­a­peu­tic set­ting.

“Some had PTSD, oth­ers had se­vere men­tal ill­ness like schizophre­nia,” Saremi told me be­fore we headed out for our run. “It was re­ally hard for them to tol­er­ate sit­ting in a room, talk­ing about their feel­ings, es­pe­cially with a young woman. Eye con­tact was an is­sue. So walk­ing side by side ac­tu­ally made a lot of sense.”

She left that agency to start her own prac­tice a

Ecou­ple of years ago, and de­cided that walk/run ther­apy for adults would be her niche. She earned a run­ning coach cer­tifi­cate through the Road­run­ners Club of Amer­ica and hung out her shin­gle.

When I heard about Saremi’s prac­tice, it struck me as a per­fectly sen­si­ble way to get ther­apy.

I’ve been run­ning for decades and have had the same run­ning part­ner for the past 26 years or so. We often talk about how, for us, run­ning is more about men­tal health than phys­i­cal fit­ness, and joke that how we are each other’s fa­vorite ther­a­pist.

When we run, our guards are down. We of­fer each other ad­vice, sym­pa­thy and sup­port. Some­times we have spir­ited de­bates and get so caught up in con­ver­sa­tion that we miss our turn­around point. Other times, we run in si­lence, at­tuned to each oth­ers’ rhythms and needs. We al­ways run at the beach. We never race. Run­ning next to the ocean, we like to say, in­creases our “en­dol­phins.” (Sorry. We also laugh pretty hard at our own jokes.)

“There’s def­i­nitely a bridge be­tween run­ning for fit­ness and run­ning for men­tal health,” Saremi said. “I have found it es­pe­cially help­ful for anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.”

Af­ter launch­ing her “Run Walk Talk” prac­tice three years ago, Saremi, 33, dis­cov­ered other pro­fes- sion­als were do­ing sim­i­lar things: She has spo­ken with Wayne San­dler, a psy­chi­a­trist who has two tread­mills in his of­fice. She has also con­nected with Wil­liam Pullen, an English ther­a­pist with a Lon­don prac­tice who coined the phrase “Dy­namic Run­ning Ther­apy.”

The grand­daddy of the move­ment is an Amer­i­can psy­chi­a­trist named Thad­deus Kostrubala. In 1976, he pub­lished “The Joy of Run­ning,” an in­flu­en­tial book about the sport’s ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits.

A lot of Saremi’s run­ning clients, as you might imag­ine, are high achiev­ers who re­sist tra­di­tional ther­apy be­cause sit­ting around talk­ing — while pay­ing $200 an hour — feels like a waste of time.

“This is a way to hook them into the ther­apy,” Saremi said. “I have peo­ple com­ing in who say, ‘I’ve been con­sid­er­ing go­ing to ther­apy for six years.’ I say, ‘That’s a re­ally long time to be strug­gling and suf­fer­ing be­fore you step into my of­fice.’ I think the run­ning is what helps them make their de­ci­sion.”

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