01 March 2015

Sports #Psychology and Sports Trauma #EMDR #CBT

Shortly after my 17th birthday, I participated in a friendly, yet competitive, basketball tournament. I was going up for an offensive rebound, and when I landed on the ground I felt a sharp pain in my left calf. I collapsed to the ground, grabbing the swelling in my leg. Later when I was meeting with doctors, I heard the phrases “torn muscle,” “missed the nerve,” “lucky to walk again.” Those words rang through my head as I was on crutches and in a walking boot for just over two months, and then as I underwent intense physiotherapy for four more months.

To this day, I am not as aggressive around the hoop as I used to be. Albeit, some of it may have to do with that I’m not as fit as I used to be, but there still is that lingering fear, and reminders when I play in similar venues.

Sports Psychology is a recent field and is devoted to helping athletes gain a mental edge that helps improve or enhance their athletic performance. Sports Trauma is even newer. The understanding that a traumatic experience in sporting, such as the one I had, or bigger ‘T’ traumas such as permanent physical damage, or smaller ‘t’ traumas like giving possession away and costing your team the game; impacts performance and comfort.

There are two psychotherapies that are beneficial in treating a traumatic experience, and can be applied to a traumatic sporting experience. The first is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Trauma (CBT for Trauma), and the second is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.

CBT for Trauma focuses on understanding thoughts, emotions, body feelings, and actions. Challenging negative and unhelpful thoughts, and reframing those thoughts into positive helpful ones. Relaxation exercises are used to help lower the stress and arousal system baselines in the body. All this is done to prepare for gradual exposure to the traumatic experience through narration. Outcome is awareness of trauma triggers and being able to manage them.

EMDR Therapy focuses on the traumatic experience, the distress it causes presently, negative cognitions, and body sensations associated with the traumatic event. Through bilateral stimulation, whether visual, auditory or physical, processing occurs until the feelings of distress are neutral. Reframing and reprocessing occurs with a positive cognition. Outcome is a decrease in present stress from the trauma triggers.

As is noted in Sports Psychology and is true for treating Sports Trauma, engaging in it does not mean that one will become an elite athlete, rather that participating in sports will become a more positive experience with fewer unwanted triggers.