231: Hiking with Phillip Lolonis, LCSW
This is the first of two podcasts featuring Phillip Lolonis, LCSW, who works with Rhonda at her new FeelingGreatTherapyCenter.com.
Some of you may remember my descriptions and photos of my Sunday hikes for people in our training groups for the past ten years. Here's a photo from one my last hikes before the pandemic. Phillip is the one in red in the back row. I hope to resume the Sunday hikes as soon as people are vaccinated!
In today's podcast, you'll meet Phillip Lolonis who has transformed TEAM-CBT hiking therapy into a high and exciting art form on the California trails near Mt. Diablo.
Phillip is a licensed clinical social worker and Level 3 TEAM therapists who is a member of Rhonda's new Feeling Great Therapy Center in the East Bay. He describes his love for "nature therapy" and pointed out that the Buddha experienced enlightenment when meditating under a tree. Phillip describes growing up on a farm and feeling at peace and profound connection with nature as he watched his father working in the fields. He said that his ancestors were all farmers in Greece for hundreds of years.
Phillip first started "hiking therapy" when he was working with groups of individuals suffering from schizophrenia. One day, he decided to take his group out for a hike in the hills behind the hospital, and noticed the peacefulness and relaxation the patients experienced while hiking, and see the views of the San Francisco Bay from (describe the location at the top of the hike.) He said the patients seemed to experience much less of the internal, distracting stimuli that interfered so greatly with their attempts to connect with others.
All of his patients complete David's Evaluation of Therapy Session after each session. This tools encourages patients to rate the therapist's empathy and helpfulness and describe what they liked and disliked about the session. Phillip works with a wide range of individuals, and says that whether they are 10 years old suffering from shyness, or executives from a tech companies who are facing burnout, they often say that they feel more open, honest and willing to go deeper when hiking in nature, than when they are being treated back in his office or on zoom.
He pointed out that these days, a great many individuals coping with mental illness end up being "treated" in jails, which are frightening and actually intensify the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Phillip has a special tenderness and compassion for individuals with schizophrenia because his younger brother struggles with this affliction. However, his "hiking" therapy is not limited to individuals with schizophrenia, but adults and families with the full range of emotional challenges, such as depression and anxiety.
He explained how he integrates the four elements of TEAM: T = Testing, E = Empathy, A = Assessment of Resistance, and M = Methods while hiking with his patients / clients. He also discussed some of the ethical considerations, and how to gently create boundaries so that his patients will understand that this is a professional relationship in a natural setting. Phillip is convinced, and probably right, that a beautiful and peaceful outdoor environment actually facilitates treatment and speeds recovery.
Here are some photos from his hikes. just to give you an idea of what his special "office" looks like. It's a bit different from the analyst's couch!
Take a look at this incredibly cute video of "talking turkey" on one of his hikes!