Psychotherapy in sport works with the psychological and mental aspects of the game, but also aims to understand the person behind the game, valuing the individual’s experiences on a deeper and more emotional level, through the therapeutic approach.
If we break it down in its simplest form, this is what psycho-therapy means for sport:
Psycho – working with the psychological and mental aspects of the game.
Therapy – the therapeutic relationship and understanding of lived experiences.
The unique element in psychotherapy is that both the psychological and therapeutic components are acknowledged – within and beyond the game. We want to know and understand the person within the sport, as well as personal experiences – reaching a depth of relating, which offers the distinctive quality of psychotherapy. It’s a journey and a process, helping to bring the ‘whole’ person into the work, including; individual goals, mind and body processes, emotions, relationships, past or present experiences.
Sometimes negative self-talk, loneliness, depression, anxiety, etc. can all impact the individual. The work in psychotherapy can provide a safe space for the individual to talk openly and share the burden of what they may be carrying, along with gaining more effective strategies that can help with performance, and transferable within personal life too. The sportsperson can have greater awareness of themselves and those around them, build greater confidence and self-esteem, improve relationships, along with potentially enhancing performance and taking care of their mental well-being.
Athletes still experience the natural and inevitable challenges that life presents, for instance; relationship issues, loss and bereavements, physical ailments, psychological and mental challenges and human emotions. Life happens… yet the impact of these can go unnoticed!
This holistic approach of seeing the person fully through working with the mind and body, applying all elements of their human-ness with the emotional aspects of the game and life, and offering psychological input, as well as empathy and compassion – truly offers a unique and harmonising approach that takes care of each person’s well-being.
The mind is a powerful tool that leads each sportsperson to achieve their goals – and yet the person within this is still just human! This is where psychotherapy values all parts of the person, inside and outside the game.
Below, I highlight a few of the main key areas on how psychotherapy can be valuable in sport:
- Supports you and your sporting goals
We invest in you! In all aspects of your life, the game, and your desire to be the best you can and taking the time to truly understand what this means to you.
There may be ‘blocks’ that are in the depths of your mind and we work with the unconscious aspects that may be feeding into certain areas of your game, and life… in order to support you in reaching your full potential! Our desire is to know you as a person, both on and off competitive events.
Trained in working with the psychology of the mind intertwined with the therapeutic element, a psychotherapist works with you to identify strategies and tactics that can be utilised to enhance performance. We take the time to recognise what may and may not be useful to you, so you can move in the direction of your dreams.
We give the space for your thoughts and feelings to be heard, going at your pace in order to understand yourself better, and supporting you within the challenging situations you may face. The belief that another has in you, can be a great factor in you truly believing that it can happen too, and this is again, where the therapeutic element works well. We support, believe in who you are and all you do, and this in itself can open you up to reaching your potential.
2. Increases tolerance to emotions
The competitive nature of playing at an elite level will naturally present feelings of, sometimes, quite intense emotions. Psychotherapy helps to recognise and understand the way in which you deal with these emotions, identifying triggers of both past and present experiences, and exploring these within a safe space in order to help the individual to understand these better.
Life happens to us all – so how does the elite sportsperson manage their emotions, along with all the other challenging factors at play! Imagine the freedom that comes with allowing yourself to speak freely within a confidential and safe space, talking about the difficulties of life events, the pressure that you may be feeling, the negative internalised beliefs that you may be fighting, along with perhaps fear and anxiety about it all.
Identifying and accepting what may be there, can help release the emotions from your mind and body, instead of festering internally and potentially impacting mental, emotional and even physical well-being. Allowing emotions to arise and not being fearful of being in touch with them increases your tolerance to them, rather than perhaps suppressing, desensitising or moving away from them.
3. Offers a therapeutic relationship
Developed over time, the therapeutic relationship is based upon a deep and meaningful experience between client and therapist. This offers a human-to-human connection, acknowledging experiences, and forming a connection that is based upon acceptance, honesty, trust and open-communication, all without judgement.
It makes this experience one that is special and distinctive. To have that one person who wants to try their best to understand who you are, to value your experiences and to build a therapeutic relationship, which is a one of a kind relationship. Without this deep connection, there is no therapy!
The ups and downs of competitive sport requires a mental resilience that is tested on a regular basis – and creating the space to explore and reflect, with a person who is present and wants to listen, acknowledge and support you, is definitely a unique experience – one that sees and values all parts of you!
In my opinion, this is one of the most important and valuable aspects of psychotherapy. The development of the person through therapy naturally feeds into the sporting performance.
4. Encourages self-identity
Due to the competitive nature of elite sports and the desire to win, of course, there is going to be an attachment to the outcome of the game, and perhaps even how others or how you begin to value yourself. Psychotherapy encourages to further define your sense of self, identity, and therefore further enhance your sense of value.
Building a stronger relationship with yourself helps to create a mental and emotional balance, to a point where outside factors have less impact on you, and you are not shifted as much based upon scoring or what happens in the game.
Recognising all the achievements outside of the game are also important – understanding that you are not your game and there is so much more to you. The more you recognise the two parts and enable them to connect, the greater the potential to create a healthier connection with yourself, to others, and to the game!
5. Awareness of mind and body processes (psychological, mental and physical aspects – holistic approach)
This is where the mental aspect of the game merges with the therapeutic element of the game, and life. The patterns of an individual’s thoughts, behaviours, feelings and actions are understood, finding ways to approach particular aspects of the game. This can help to enhance performance, work through effective strategies, and manage the pressures surrounding the game.
The mind and body work together, and in my opinion, the body is an important factor in understanding what may be going on in the mind. The two are connected! Our bodies speak to us, and through understanding better what the somatic responses may be, can be a helpful tool to understand the psychological aspects. This helps to establish a balance between mind and body – for preparation.
Our conditioned responses become our unconscious patterns, leading us to create processes that may repeat particular cycles and produce outcomes that may feel familiar. Psychotherapy works to bring into awareness these processes, as a way of opening you up to reaching your full potential and tearing away the unconscious ‘blocks’ that may be in the way.
So… the individual can improve their game on the mind-set level, but can also make room for other aspects of themselves that may go unrecognised. This brings greater awareness toward self and initiates to reach a greater sense of fulfilment.
Your mind, your experience, your game!