Whether it’s offseason and you’re pushing yourself to get to that next level, or mid-season when your entire focus feels like it has to be on your athletic performance, are you checking in with your mental health needs?
Are you practicing self-compassion when you have an “off day” at practice? Are you using healthy coping skills to manage stress so that you’re able to function academically? Are you checking in with friends and family? These often get put on the back burner as a competitive athlete.
On the Main Line, athletics is central to the hometown culture valued highly by families living in the area. Being an athlete is also a large part of being a high school student for many young adults here. However, challenges that athletes deal with can have a significant impact on their mental health. The athletic world can be highly competitive, or even brutal, for some. The NCAA reports that the most recent American College Health Association study found that 30% and 50% of student-athletes reported anxiety or depression. Therefore, the need for qualified mental health professionals that understand these pressures cannot be understated.
Part of Katie's mission as a psychotherapist is to help athletes on the Main Line improve their mental health first, seeing it as a priority and enhancement to their athletic performance.
How Katie's Approach Differs from Traditional Sport Psychology
Traditionally, sports psychology focuses on athletic performance -- specifically, how a player’s mindset can affect how they play the sport. Sports psychologists also teach athletes to use psychological principles to enhance their playing skills and conflicts during a game or on the field. Things like improving focus and motivation, and creating and visualizing goals, are all central to sports psychology practice.
So, how is Katie's philosophy different from that of sports psychology? It’s simple. She believes in addressing mental health first, looking at the root cause of symptoms. Often, performance-driven therapy can ignore many of the warning signs to more significant health problems. Addressing each symptom first can prevent them from developing into something worse -- just like your physical health. If you sprain your ankle on the field and ignore it, it’s more likely to become a more impactful injury.
Taking the emphasis off of the results-driven methodology and prioritizing the athlete’s overall mental health and well-being allows them to tackle their mental health concerns first, rather than focusing solely on performance. She believes this leads to long-term healing and fulfillment, helping young adults target the root issues causing their struggles.
Athlete Mental Health
While playing a sport can be a positive outlet for an athlete, it does not create immunity from mental health challenges. In fact, some researchers have suggested that at times of increased stress, such as during injury or periods of poor performance, elite athletes are more likely than members of the general population to experience a mental disorder (Gulliver et 100 al., 2015; Rice et al., 2016).
Before becoming a mental health professional, Katie played Division I soccer. As a former athlete, she can empathize with the stress of playing a sport and balancing all the other things that go along with it, like academics and social life. When a person decides to play sports at a high school or college level, especially in areas like the Mainline, the pressure turns up.
The recruitment process, deciding which school to play at, and committing to is highly stressful. Handling this stress and knowing how to communicate your needs during this time properly is crucial to preserving your mental health. While this is sometimes easier said than done, seeking therapy is a great solution to help build the skills you need as a person and an athlete.
Being an athlete is also a large part of your identity if you play sports. When a part of someone’s identity conflicts with another, it can cause confusion and frustration. There is an enormous stigma in the sports community against seeking treatment for mental health -- especially for men. Michael Phelps, an Olympic swimmer, even admits this: “For the longest time, I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness because that’s kind of what society teaches us. That’s especially true from an athlete’s perspective.”
Despite the significant connection between athletic performance and identity, putting the person first before the sport is essential.
The Goal of Therapy
Ultimately, athletics should be something a student athlete enjoys, not another stressor in their life. Katie’s goal is to help athletes keep the excitement around sports that mental health has compounded or gain it back if that enjoyment has been lost.
When you look at the statistics, it’s clear that therapy can be hugely beneficial to athletes. Simone Biles, perhaps one of the greatest gymnasts of our time, is also well known for not completing her entire performance in the latest Olympics because of mental health problems.
She stated, “For a while, I saw a psychologist once every two weeks. That helped me get in tune with myself so that I felt more comfortable and less anxious.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health, seeking treatment is essential to their well-being. While located in the Philadelphia suburbs, specifically the Mainline area, Katie is currently offering tele-health services to create accessibility for student athletes seeking care. You can work with her to improve your mental health from the comfort of your own home.