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“13 Reasons Why” An Athlete Should See a Mental Health Sports Therapist (By Natalie Draves)

Even in today’s age of self-help, there is still a lot of stigma around going to therapy. This is especially true in the sports community.

Therapy or counseling (whatever word you are comfortable with) helps millions of people deal with all sorts of things that happens in everyday life. Therapy is a very practical way to address problems, issues, and concerns.

The process of therapy has many benefits. You can make discoveries about yourself, identify feelings, gain confidence and learn new ways of functioning. However, when it comes to athletes they are less likely to seek this kind of help or even report that something is wrong. Since I am a therapist that works with athletes and being that the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month I want to give some reasons why athletes SHOULD see a mental health sports therapist. I have “13 Reasons Why” in fact…and yes, the pun was intended. It is time for the culture of sports to stop avoiding mental health and mental illness issues. We must treat mental illness just like a physical illness, they both need to get treated. I hope to normalize the topic of mental health in the sports community as well as bring awareness to the risk that athletes face every day. I want to encourage athletes that seeing a therapist when challenges arise is always a smart move to make.

  1. Mental Toughness. I know as an athlete you have been told to “just shake it off” and “get over it” play through the pain because of this, asking for help can seem to be weak. You need to know seeking help is ALWAYS a sign of strength, not weakness. In fact, a therapist can help improve your functioning on and off the field.

  2. Improve Your Performance. In sports, it is 90% mental and 10% physical. To take your performance to the next level you must put in the work on the mental side just as you do on the physical side. This is another reason why working with a therapist that will understand you is a great idea.

  3. Self-Care. As an athlete, you have a very busy and demanding schedule. You must manage competing, family, friends, classes, getting a scholarship, getting an offer, going to the next level and much more, all the while having to be almost perfect all the time. It is important that you take care of your inner self. Seeing a therapist can help you to maintain your best self.

  4. Stress Reliever. Being an athlete on any playing level can be very stressful. Dealing with school, the league, practice, coaches, family, friends, a demanding schedule, losing your position, getting a new position, expectations, performing at your best all the time, getting a scholarship, getting an offer, whew…That’s a lot and I could still go on and on. It can all feel impossible at times. Talking to a therapist can assist you with placing things in the proper perspective. Exploring your thoughts and feelings will relieve your stress level tremendously. Less stress better focus!

  5. Learn Coping Strategies. A therapist can introduce techniques and skills to assist with focusing, anxiety, depression and anger management. Learning new skills will enhance your abilities on and off the field.

  6. Get Support. Often athletes feel that “no one understands them” or no one knows what they are “going through”. These feelings can lead to frustration, anger, and depression. A therapist can be that one person for you that is supportive and validates you. In therapy, the meetings are confidential with no judgments or criticisms.

  7. Improved Relationships. You may find you are having some difficulties with coaches, parents, friends or even a significant other. Discussing this with your therapist can give some insight and problem-solving solutions.

  8. Addressing Sleep, Eating, and Headaches. Our bodies respond to what is happening in our minds. Changes in sleep or eating can be direct reactions to emotional distress. Other symptoms are body aches and headaches. Working with a therapist can help recognize the emotional triggers and help ease the pain.

  9. Dealing with Trauma. Distressing events like being the victim of a crime, experiencing a death, or having an illness can be a life altering event that is traumatic. Getting injured and no longer being able to play can be a deeply disturbing trauma as well. Working through issues with a therapist can significantly aid in the healing process.

  10. Anxiety. Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Feelings of worry, stress, and fear can happen to anyone, including athletes. Some studies show that athletes are at more risk for mental disorders. Working with a sports mental health therapist can help you identify and manage your feelings.

  11. Depression. Like anxiety, depression (major depressive disorder) is a very comment aliment that millions of people suffer with. Depression affects how ones feel, thinks, and behave. Some symptoms make you lose interest in the activities you use to like, can cause feelings of sadness or changes in sleep and eating patterns, loss of energy, feeling of shame or guilt and thoughts of death or suicide. Symptoms are felt for at least two weeks. Talking to mental health sports therapist can help you manage these feelings and thoughts.

  12. Substance Abuse. Sometimes, when you don’t know how to deal with a stress, pressure or a problem, misusing or abusing alcohol and drugs becomes the thing to do. This is called self-medicating and is destructive to your athletic career and life. Meeting with a therapist can offer treatment that provides options other than abusing substances.

  13. Suicide Prevention. The most important reason to see a therapist is to get help and support when having feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself. Some studies suggest that athletes are at more risk for mental illness due to the pressure of playing a sport than non-athletes. Athletes can be susceptible to depression and thoughts of suicide. Suicide is NOT a normal reaction to chronic stress or problems. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can text The Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

More athletes are working with mental health professionals to improve their game, as well as obtaining the emotional support they require. However, there is still a stigma around athletes admitting they need help. You do not have to be ashamed or embarrassed about getting assistance. Add a mental health sports therapist to your team, you will be glad you did.

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