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Why a sports injury can harm our mental health

A sprained ankle can mean more than a few weeks off the pitch or the running track. Professor Sarah Niblock, CEO of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, and therapist Gary Bloom explore how physical injury can have an impact on emotional wellbeing.

The fallout of a sports injury

can be far-reaching, says UKCP

psychotherapist

Gary Bloom

When someone is injured, our primary concern is the
physical symptoms of the injury and we may not realise the effect it can have on our mental wellbeing until much later. Of course, the psychological impact depends on many factors, such as the severity of the injury an time away from training, but also what that activity means to the individual – perhaps
crucial time to think or deal with life’s stresses.

For professional sportspeople, there are other factors that might affect their mental wellbeing, such as worries around loss of income and status. Overnight, a broken limb
could put you out of commission for the foreseeable future. This can have a dramatic impact on your sense of
identity and financial security. There are also physiological effects because the endorphins released by someone training most days will no longer be produced, sometimes resulting in low mood and even depression.

Feelings and physicality

The role of psychotherapy in the world of sport is increasingly proving its effectiveness. I work with sportspeople and encourage them to voice their uncertainty about their injury, which allows them to face their fears for the future. They look at the impact it could have on their life and career, and often
the psychotherapeutic space is the only place they feel like they can talk openly. Working with sportspeople to improve their performance is often a by-product of delving therapeutically into their lives, history and goals – and it is the
same for anyone who loves playing a sport. When an injury incapacitated a person, they can lose their sense of identity. It is important to find support during that time and a place where you can be honest about how injury is affecting you. Psychotherapy is a process that can help you unpack the emotional effects of a physical experience, freeing you to find new ways of being.

Anyone can be psychologically affected by a sports
injury, from professional athletes to weekend runners. Being restricted in this way can have a significant impact, especially for those who exercise for stress relief or rely on sport to support them financially. In this month’s podcast, I speak to sports psychotherapist Gary Bloom about the emotional repercussions of sports injuries.

Sarah, CEO of the UK Council
for Psychotherapy

How I became a therapist

Sports expert Gary Bloom explains his journey into psychotherapy.

FOR MANY YEARS, I WORKED as a sports commentator. I was that bloke on the telly who shouted ‘goal!’ for a living. It was great fun, but it wasn’t as relational as I wanted.

I tried my hand at a few other things, but it was only when I went into therapy myself that something clicked. I tried a certificate year, learning basic counselling skills. This spurred me to continue and I completed a four-year postgraduate diploma.

Now, I’m back in the sporting realm as the only practitioner working psychotherapeutically in a professional football club with players and coaching staff.

I also work with elite athletes from other sports and non-athletes from the business community and I find their needs similar.

Although you will still find me broadcasting, my psychotherapeutic work is easily the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

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