Written by Dana Mefferd, Focus Therapy Intern
Hello everyone! Before I get into the topic of this blog post I thought I would introduce myself a little bit. My name is Dana Mefferd and I am currently a senior at Buena Vista University. During the month of January, I am interning with Becky Meline to gain a better understanding of the world of sports psychology and what goes into running your own private practice. I have been an athlete my whole life and the mental side of sports has always fascinated me. I plan on attending graduate school to pursue a career in sports psychology with the hopes that one day I will have my own private practice.
Being an athlete means dealing with injuries usually more than once, I have had several myself. The physical rehabilitation for injuries is often times the main, or only, focus. However, as the sports psychology world has grown we have learned that the mental rehabilitation of injuries is just as important, if not more important, than the physical rehabilitation. When an athlete is injured they will experience the normal emotional reactions, like sadness or frustration, as they process their injury and the medical information. For some student-athletes, however, an injury can trigger or unmask serious mental health issues like depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and substance use or abuse.
Every athlete will have a different emotional reaction to their injury and it is important for athletic trainers, team physicians, coaches, administrators, parents, and the student-athlete themselves to understand that emotional reactions to an injury are normal. However, problematic reactions are ones that either do not resolve or worsen over time, or where the severity of symptoms seems excessive (Putukian). I will give a couple examples of how an injury can affect the psychological health of a student-athlete.
One problematic response an athlete can have to an injury is to put a restriction on their caloric intake. The reason for this type of response is they feel that since they are injured they “do not deserve” to eat. A reaction like this can be a trigger for disordered eating. When a student-athlete is already at risk for disordered eating, this negative reaction only heightens the likelihood these unhealthy behaviors will worsen (Putukian).
A second problematic reaction to a student-athlete can have towards an injury is depression, which can magnify other reactions and can also impact recovery. Depression is some student-athletes can also be linked to performance failure. When an athlete sustains a significant injury, such as injures that result in time loss from sport, they can suffer both physically as well as mentally with the sudden change in lifestyle and decrease in their quality of life. In march of 1998, Olympic skier Picabo Street sustained significant leg and knee injuries and battled significant depression during her recovery period. She stated, “I went all the way to rock bottom. I never thought I would ever experience anything like that in my life. It was a combination of the atrophying of my legs, the new scars, and feeling like a caged animal.” She eventually received treatment and returned to skiing before retiring.
Student-athletes who are experiencing problematic psychological responses may benefit from seeking treatment. It may be difficult to get them to try treatment because it may be new to them or they could have a negative opinion about it, so it is important for coaches, team physicians, athletic trainers, and parents to all work together to provide quality care and a strong supportive foundation.
Dana is a senior at Buena Vista University and is studying Human Performance and Psychology. She has been a student athlete her whole life and played collegiate soccer for Buena Vista for four seasons. Once she graduates in May, Dana wants to attend graduate school to get a master’s degree in sports psychology with a focus in helping athletes over come the mental block that happens when they experience an injury.