McLean Psychologist, Clients Take to the Outdoors
Jennifer Lager, a licensed clinical psychologist, has found that walking and talking yield positive results for her clients.
Jennifer Lager knows people suffering from anxiety or depression often isolate and stay indoors. It’s her job to get them on the move again—both mentally and physically.
“One of the things we know so well is exposure to outdoor light and exercise are really, really good for treating depression and anxiety,” said Lager, a licensed clinical psychologist who has practiced in McLean for 11 years. “And often times when people get depressed, especially, they tend to isolate, they lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, so it just kind of gets them out and moving.”
Lager offers a therapeutic walking group and sometimes takes walks with individual clients, usually teenagers who tend to relax and open up more when outside. The group usually walks at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, and she takes individual clients to McLean Central Park.
Lager, who earned her doctorate of psychology in 1997 from Rutgers University, formerly worked on Fairfax County’s emergency crisis unit and has been in private practice full-time since 2000, first in Fairfax and then McLean.
“I think I always was kind of introspective and interested in understanding how I worked and just found people's narratives interesting,” Lager told Patch. “And they talked about where they were from, and it’s a very powerful feeling for someone to come in and share intimate details of their life with you. And if you can help them learn new strategies, or learn new coping mechanisms, or get some relief from some sort of pain or anxiety they’re feeling, it’s just very rewarding.”
Lager also counsels athletes. Growing up, she was an athlete herself, swimming and diving in college until she hit a wall, where the mental aspect of diving held her back, and quit her sophomore year.
She first learned about sports psychology in graduate school. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if I had had someone to do this with me when I was in college, maybe I could have gone a lot farther,’ because I don’t think my limitations were physical,” she said. “They were really psychological.”
Lager has worked with tennis players—a sport she plays today—and athletes including gymnasts, ice-skaters, competitive cyclists and even performance artists. But walking is for more people than athletes.
She’s read criticism that walking therapy groups compromise clients’ confidentiality. But she talks to group members beforehand, and they discuss what to do if they come across another person, or someone they know. “It hasn’t been a problem,” she said. “People have just kind of managed with that.”
Walks last about an hour, and groups are limited to four or five people. Many of her clients in the walking groups took the lesson to heart and now walk on their own, she said.
When she first started a walking group, Lager performed a pre- and post-measure of one walking group about depression and anxiety.
“I did see by the end that there was some lifting of the mood,” she said. “So I think that’s one of the things that they get out of it. And for other people I think it just got them kick-started to getting back out and doing some exercise, and moving their bodies."
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