Today is #BellLetsTalkDay, an initiative “dedicated to moving mental health forward in Canada." It promotes awareness and action with a strategy built on four key pillars: fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research and leading by example in workplace mental health.
As a future mental health professional, I feel I have a responsibility to advocate for mental health. Although every day is a good day to talk about mental health, there is a feeling of safety and a sense of community that moves me to speak out about a cause near and dear to my heart on this particular day.
A couple of years ago, I was subjected to what I believe was misconduct of a sexual nature by a physical therapist. I was not sexually abused. A line was crossed, however, and I felt violated. The first time a line was crossed, I left the clinic in tears, confused about what had just happened in the treatment room. At the time, I did not know how to make sense of all the thoughts and emotions the experiences brought up in me, so I tucked them away in a little box. “I need to focus on what’s important right now and that’s recovering from my injury so I can run,” I told myself.
I suppressed my feelings for as long as I could, but the lid eventually came off. I was feeling off but couldn’t figure out why. I was sad, down and emotionally volatile. I lost confidence in myself in all areas of life: on the track, in my workplace, and in my relationships. Confused about my emotional state, I decided to seek professional help.
As I began to process my feelings with my psychotherapist, it became clear that my experience had triggered a series of internal conflicts. I had seen multiple therapists over the years and had never felt the way I was feeling at the time. However, I still didn’t trust myself to decide if what had happened was right or wrong. I downplayed the incidents by rationalizing that “nothing really happened, it’s not like I was sexually abused.” Moreover, the image I had of myself as an assertive woman was shattered. I was not the self-assured woman who spoke up when it mattered, but “the girl who froze and kept going back to the same physical therapist for treatment.”
Please understand that I am not looking for sympathy. My reason for writing this blog is twofold. First, I want to stress how much speaking to a psychotherapist helped me. There is still a huge stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues. As a future psychotherapist, I want people to know that therapy simply provides a safe and judgement-free place to talk. Second, hearing someone else’s story would have helped me process my emotions. I would have realized that others experience the same kind of feelings I had at the time.
I hope that by sharing my experience today, I can draw attention to the relationship between athletes and therapists (i.e. massage, chiro, physio, etc.). As athletes, we need to get treatment and often times it can be in “awkward” places. Even though the therapists are experts in their field, WE as athletes have OWNERSHIP of what happens in the treatment room.
Therapists, I urge you to exercise caution and not blur the line. There is a power deferential between you and the athletes you are treating, so follow your code of ethics. Remain diligent even if you’ve been working with athletes for a long time. Don’t make assumptions and always communicate your treatment plan.
To all athletes and to anyone reading this, please trust your intuition. If something feels off, it is off!
Thank you, Oiselle, for giving me this platform and empowering me to share my experience and promote the benefits of seeking help to deal with mental health issues.