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We tried 'running therapy,' a workout for the mind and body

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Running therapy—it's exactly what it sounds like. It's essentially running and talking out your problems, and medical professionals are hoping this technique brings people who wouldn't usually consider getting mental health help into the therapy room.

"I'm a psychotherapist and running therapist based here in L.A., and I work with overachievers and entrepreneurs," Sepideh Saremi, a licensed clinical social worker in Redondo Beach, California, tells me to describe her clientele when I visit her office at Run Walk Talk, of which she's the founder of.

Run Walk Talk is the name of her private practice that gives clients therapy while they run. She got the idea from her days working at a community health center where she would walk with patients. There's a lot research that shows that running helps to relieve stress and anxiety and that therapy does, too, but there aren't many studies on the effect of both of them together.

Another peek at the new Run Walk Talk office. Who's coming to the open house/office warming on Wednesday 11/1?? 🙋‍♀️

A post shared by Sepideh Saremi | Run Walk Talk (@runwalktalk) on

One 2012 study from the Netherlands found that running therapy does not "require the necessary introspective ability necessary for most psychotherapies," and because of that, was not effective in improving depression. But not everyone goes to therapy for depression. There's a lack of research on running therapy all around, and Saremi will be the first to tell you that. Still, she's betting on it big-time.

"What clients are saying about the treatment is that it's easier for them to talk often when we're running or walking together than when we're in the office," said Saremi. "Part of that might be because we're not making sustained eye contact when we're running. We run side by side."

I've never really tried therapy myself, but I do like to run, so I decided to see what it was all about.

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I met up with Sepideh at Redondo Beach in California.

"Welcome to my office. Isn't she beautiful?" she says pointing to the waves crashing down on a 98º F Wednesday afternoon.

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This is where she brings her clients (she says she has about 20 of them). They can either run or walk, and what they talk about is up to them. I chose to run and because I'm 23 and a recent college grad, I chose talk about my finances and my struggles with budgeting around hyperactive friends who have more to spend than I do.

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Sepideh Saremi at her office, the beach.

"This is really interesting because a lot of millennials struggle with this," Saremi tells me as we start running. I start running a little too fast for my own pace; I notice this when I start talking, so I slow down. Saremi quickly slows down to match my pace.

We ran and talked for a solid 10 minutes. Like Saremi said, not making eye contact made it easier to open up. My sunglasses probably helped, too. The first minute or so, I was focused on running more than talking, but eventually, I forgot about how fast or slow I was going, looked straight ahead and really focused on Saremi's questions. I hate to use this vague word to describe the experience, but it really was therapeutic.

There are no clear rules and regulations to do what Saremi does. She, of course, is certified by the State of California's Board of Behavioral Sciences. That combined with her two degrees make her more than qualified to give therapy. But the running part?

"I went and got a coaching certification through the Road Runners Club of America and that allows me to work with people who are new to running safely."

Right now, she says only she and a few practices in the U.K. and Germany are doing running therapy. There don't seem to be many practitioners in the United States. Several psychologists I reached out to for this story reported never hearing about the practice.

The American Psychological Association did not respond to a request for comment.

But she's hoping this helps therapy in general catch on. A 2013 survey by the University of Phoenix found that about 27% of Americans adults receive some from of mental health treatment, but the amount of people who need it could be much higher. The same study found that 57% of people who sought medical help, experienced barriers that prevented them from receiving the mental health help.

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"My dream is for more therapists to do this kind of work so that different kinds of people will come to therapy that otherwise wouldn't," says Saremi.

"Mindful Running" and "Running with Mindfulness: Dynamic Running Therapy" are books on the subject, and Saremi suggests reading them if you're curious about how you can use running to improve your mental health. "Dynamic Running Therapy" also comes with an app, DRT, that walks you through a running therapy session on your phone.

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She also wants to breach that research gap, pushing forth more studies on the technique. But she also admits running therapy is not for everyone. Talking about your personal problems in public can be scary.

"Before we ever go out, I talk with them about, 'Well, what are the things that you're comfortable talking about when we're running together. What are the things that maybe you don't want to talk about when we're running?'" Saremi said.

But if you don't have $200 to drop on a running therapy session every week, Saremi says running alone can help a lot. That's free.

"There are all sorts of chemicals that are begin released in your brain, and it helps generate neurons in your brain and just generally make you feel better."

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