Is 'Zennis' the New Mental Health Therapy?

ByABC News via logo

Sept. 1, 2006 — -- Looking for some peace of mind that goes beyond the therapist's couch?

The solution could be found in exercise.

Now, counselors are providing a new kind of mental health treatment that combines talk therapy with physical exercise that includes everything from walking and hiking to tennis and golf.

Clay Cockrell, a New York City licensed social worker, has taken his therapy off the couch and into the great outdoors.

"I meet you. We do our session. It's just much more convenient," Cockrell said.

Antidepressants are taking away business from talk therapy, according to some experts.

A recent study found that less than 15 percent of patients had the suggested amount of follow-up care after starting medication.

So therapists have to find new ways to keep people interested in talk therapy.

Cockrell thinks combining talk therapy with physical exercise might increase the number of people considering talk therapy.

"I think we're becoming a society looking for a quick fix. I go, I take my pill, and I'm better," he said. "It doesn't work that way."

There's an added bonus in walk and talk therapy -- the exercise.

Research has shown that even a light workout helps diminish bad moods and relieve pain.

"It's not for everyone, but for those that it works, it really, really works," Cockrell said.

For the clients of Los Angeles-based tennis pro Zach Kleiman, the new method seems to really work.

Although not licensed like Cockrell, Kleiman plays counselor on the court with his self-described practice of "zennis" -- a combination of Zen thinking and tennis.

"Play as though you really don't know what's coming at you and you don't know what's going to be," Kleiman said to one client on the court.

"Almost every exercise is about getting the client to free themselves from their limitations, expectations, positive or negative," he said.

Kleiman tries to help his clients "find that ground where they can [be] freer and live happily."

Lauren Liebowitz sees Kleiman in conjunction with traditional talk therapy to deal with her mother's death, as well as issues of control.

"Well, OK, I'm confessing. I'm a control freak," Liebowitz said. "I can't help it."

Zennis has given her a new outlook, she said.

"For me, it's an out-of-body experience in a sense that I can step outside of myself and see myself participating and get a better understanding of how I behave," she said.

Kleiman said he received some referrals from licensed therapists whose clients -- often couples -- had come to him for a range of problems from eating disorders to marriage troubles.

Some critics, however, say the new type of therapy is unprofessional and doesn't protect clients' anonymity.

Cockrell, however, disagrees.

"I think that it's still a session. You're here for 50 minutes to an hour whether we're in an office or we're outside walking in the park," he said to "Good Morning America."

For the clients, exercise therapy seems to hit a lot of birds with one stone: fitness, healing, and a little fun.

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