Psychotherapist William Pullen developed a treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems that’s founded on the power of motion. The holistic approach is detailed in his inspiring new book, Running with Mindfulness: Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT) to Improve Low Mood, Anxiety, Stress, and Depression, which I reviewed for this site. We spoke about the essence of DRT, the unique (and proven) strategies that fill the book, and why mindful running — and walking — can help people tackle tough emotional issues.
What prompted you to write this book?
My own experience of anxiety and depression: I went through a difficult period as I was turning 40. I decided the only way out was to try everything I could that I thought might work. Among the things I took up was running, and I realized what a powerful lifeline it could be. I quit smoking, ran a marathon, trained as a therapist, and developed DRT.
DRT takes us outside, into nature, and gets us moving. As a therapy, why is that so effective?
I don’t know that it’s more effective than all other therapies for all the people who try it. But the confidence and empowerment created by proactively using the body in this way provide a tangible momentum and metric that can’t be found in the therapist’s office. Research demonstrates the benefits of nature (and movement) on mental health — so yes, being outside is a big part of it.
Another aspect that is harder to explain is the way in which DRT/movement helps us get in touch with our personal narratives. Think of the shared walks or journeys you’ve taken, and how they generate a powerful sense of storytelling and confession. Of course, I recognize that some people can nether walk nor run — in which case DRT is not suitable for them
Can you explain the role mindfulness plays in this therapy?
Mindfulness is used at the beginning of the session to ground the client in the “here and now.” This is done via a sort of “checking in” with the feelings, sense and emotions. As with all mindfulness, this has more to do with increased awareness than going into identification, exploration or judgment. It helps the client develop a similar relationship with their own unwanted feelings. In other words, gentle acknowledgement is a better regulator than avoidance or fixing.
Does DRT really work for clinical cases of depression and anxiety? Can this be done in place of medication?
I would not recommend that someone drop their medication in favor of any kind of therapy until they feel ready, and have discussed it with their doctor. I’m a big believer in medication, from personal experience. Sometimes we need it just so that we can get to that place where we can take steps to address our situation. People who are interested in DRT are generally in a place where they feel they are ready to try therapy and exercise. To me, that’s more important than whether or not they are on medication.
Do you have other materials to go along with the book — such as an app?
The book includes pages for journaling your experience — an important part of the DRT journey. There is also a Dynamic Running Therapy app, with a tool for recording your answers to questions you listen to as you run with it.
What if you’re not in any shape to go running?
Walking is fine too. The important thing is to exert yourself a little — that creates the sense of commitment and engagement in the process. DRT is not about how far or fast you travel, it’s about what you learn about yourself along the way. If you are new to exercise, then I would recommend doing DRT with a friend or trusted acquaintance. It’s a great way to make movement easier. The book has a guide to choosing the right person and plenty of tips on how to share and listen.
Can you talk about any success stories — people who have escaped cycles of stress or chronically low mood with this approach?
I had a client who was stuck in a relationship dynamic they felt they couldn’t escape, and had developed unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating, and drinking too much. For that person, DRT felt like a meaningful way to gain control over the situation. One year later, they had a new relationship, and had stopped most of their unhealthy behaviors.
Is this program just for adults? Is there any way to extend it to families dealing with children or teenagers?
The book includes a program for running with kids, including ways to get them started and important sample topics of conversation. It also includes an exercise known as “Empathy Runs,” which is a great way to trigger empathy between children. For teenagers, I would say you could run with them as you would an adult. The running is a useful distraction that can make sharing easier than sitting down facing each other.