Even in today’s age of self-help, there is still a lot of stigma around going to therapy. Every day, therapy or counseling (whatever word you are comfortable with) helps millions of people deal with all sorts of things that happen in their daily lives. Those who participate in therapy sessions can make discoveries about themselves, identify feelings, gain confidence and learn new ways of functioning.
Since I am a therapist who works with a variety of clients, with athletes as a specialty area,
I want to offer some reasons why athletes and non-athletes SHOULD see a mental health therapist. I have “13 Reasons Why” in fact…and yes, the pun was intended. We must treat mental illness just like a physical illness — they both require treatment. As I continue to write these columns, I hope to normalize the topic of mental health in both the sports community and our community in general, so that when mental challenges arise, seeing a therapist is a first thought rather an afterthought.
- Mental Toughness. How many times when we face a problem in our lives we are told to “just shake it off” or “get over it?” Athletes often call it “playing through the pain.” Know that seeking professional help is ALWAYS a sign of strength, not weakness. In fact, a therapist can help improve a person’s functioning on and off the field.
- Improve Your Performance. In sports, the statistic 90% mental and 10% physical is often used. As we all seek to take our performance in life to the next level, putting in the work on the mental side is just important as the efforts we put in other areas. This is another reason why working with a therapist who understands you and your drive is a great idea.
- Self-Care. Do you have a very busy and demanding schedule? In life, there are so many things we have to balance including family, friends, school, career and more, all while trying to be our best at everything. It is important to take care of your inner self. Seeing a therapist can help you to maintain your best self.
- Stress Reliever. Dealing with all of the pressures of life can take a mental toll if we are not careful. Talking to a therapist can assist you with placing things in the proper perspective. Exploring your thoughts and feelings relieves stress tremendously. Less stress means better focus!
- Learn Coping Strategies. A therapist can introduce techniques and skills to assist with focusing, anxiety, depression and anger management. Learning new skills can enhance your abilities in both your professional and personal life.
- Get Support. Sometimes when we feel emotionally spent, there is the tendency to think “no one understands me” or no one knows what we are “going through.” These feelings can lead to frustration, anger and depression. A therapist can be that one person who is supportive and offers validation. In therapy, the meetings are confidential with no judgment or criticism.
- Improved Relationships. There may come a time when you encounter difficulties with colleagues, family, friends or even a significant other. Discussing these situations privately with your therapist can offer insight and problem solving techniques.
- Addressing Sleep, Eating, and Headaches. Our bodies respond to what is happening in our minds. Changes in sleeping or eating habits can be direct reactions to emotional distress. Other symptoms are body aches and headaches. Working with a therapist can help you identify and recognize the emotional triggers and help ease the pain.
- Dealing with Trauma. Distressing events like being the victim of a crime, experiencing the death of a loved one or having an illness can not only be life-altering, but traumatic. Working through these types of issues with a therapist can significantly aid in the healing process.
- Anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Feelings of worry, stress and fear can happen to anyone. Spending time with a mental health therapist can help identify these feelings and ultimately manage them.
- Depression. Like anxiety, depression (major depressive disorder) is a very common condition from which millions of people suffer. Depression affects how ones feels, thinks and behaves. Some symptoms include losing interest in activities you used to love, extended feelings of sadness, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, overall loss of energy, feelings of shame or guilt and even thoughts of death or suicide. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, talking to a mental health therapist is a step in the right direction to help manage these feelings and thoughts.
- Substance Abuse. Sometimes there are those who don’t know how to deal with stress, pressure or a problem, which can lead to the misuse or abuse of alcohol and/or drugs. This “self-medicating” can be destructive to your relationships, career and potentially your life. Meeting with a therapist can offer treatment that provides options other than abusing substances.
- 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 inflict self-harm. Suicide is NOT a normal reaction to chronic stress or problems. If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
And there you have it — 13 reasons to see a Mental Health Therapist. I’m sure there are many others, but whatever the reason, never be ashamed or embarrassed about getting assistance. You and those who genuinely care about your welfare will be glad you did!
Natalie Graves is a licensed clinical social worker and an expert in the area of mental health and wellness for athletes. Graves owns a private practice (Natalie Graves Athletic Counseling) specializing in this discipline. A proud native of Chicago, Graves earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Chicago State University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Additionally, Graves completed an Addictions Studies Program at City Colleges of Chicago Kennedy-King College. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. To set a complimentary consultation, call 773-294-3903.