Treating Sport-Related Traumas
Blocks, slumps, and performance anxiety can interfere with our ability to engage in sports in a way that seemed natural to us before. Sports traumas, misses, or humiliation may impact our confidence and trigger our fight/flight/freeze response and create a barrier to our performance. When we experience trauma our minds and bodies naturally try to avoid reminders of trauma in real life and in our imagination. If we consider sports trauma in the way that we view other traumas, it would make sense that our minds and bodies try to avoid the sports scenario that would trigger the anxiety response fight/flight/freeze response. This is what results in blocks, slumps, and performance anxiety which is often referred to as the yips in the sporting world.
We treat blocks, slumps, and performance anxieties using many of the same tools we use for other traumas or events that trigger our brain's alarm system known as the amygdala. We use a variety of therapies depending on the nature of the sports-related trigger and in taking into context other historical and current life events that may be contributing to the presenting problem.
Visualization can help with optimal functioning in highly stressful and competitive environments to control emotional responses that may interfere with performance. We also help athletes to learn to dissociate poor performances with who they are as a person instead of identifying themselves as a sport.
Approaches to Therapy Treating Sport-Related Trauma
We use the following therapies to help process sport-related traumas and reduce triggers to help enable natural fluidity in the sport. We also work closely with other members of the individual’s healthcare team including physiotherapy, primary health care, massage therapists, chiropractors, and pain specialists to name a few, that will help to process
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented type of therapy that teaches the client how to first recognize and then change unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving. With the use of in-session practice and homework of skills to work on between sessions, this treatment is tailored to fit the client's goals and is a highly evidence-based collaborative psychotherapy.
Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is a type of psychotherapy that encourages individuals to be compassionate toward others as well as themselves. This type of therapy is primarily used for clients that struggle with self-criticism and self-contempt. CFT often includes exercises to practice mindfulness and appreciation. Sessions focus on examining the ways we talk to ourselves, where we might have first developed the particular tone and word choices used, and how we can make changes to how we speak to ourselves to increase self-compassion and appreciation.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-focused therapy approach where clients learn to accept their emotions and feelings rather than deny or avoid them. They also learn to accept their difficulties and needs as well as work on behavioural changes.
Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy is a type of therapy used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). First, therapists teach clients coping skills that they can use throughout this process to engage in relaxation should they become too overwhelmed when discussing their traumatic experiences. PE introduces the client to concepts of how and why our brains react to trauma the way they do, why these reactions stick around, and how through the use of gradual exposure to one’s memories and in-life exposures, trauma symptoms will subside.
Brainspotting therapy™ (BSP) is a therapeutic process that uses specific points in the client’s visual field to access unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain. BSP uses relevant eye positions, somatic awareness, focused mindfulness, and the therapist’s attunement to process and release the stored traumas which underlie a wide range of emotional and physical problems. It is a brain-body-based treatment that integrates well with other types of therapies. Often brainspotting is used in conjunction with bilateral sound - music or nature sounds that move back and forth between right and left ears, which balances activation of the right and left brain hemispheres and activates the parasympathetic, or calming, part of the nervous system. Brainspotting therapy was developed in 2003 by Dr. David Grand, an EMDR therapist and relational analyst.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy is the oldest of the modern therapies and focuses on unconscious processes as they are manifested in the client's present behaviour. The goals of psychodynamic therapy are client self-awareness and understanding of the influence of their past on their present behaviour.
Brief psychodynamic psychotherapy enables the client to examine unresolved conflicts and symptoms that arise from past relationships and manifest themselves in their day to day life as current struggles.
Several different approaches to brief psychodynamic psychotherapy have evolved from psychoanalytic theory and have been used to treat many different mental health presentations.