The Impact Of Psychotherapy On Athletes With CNS Injuries


Suffering from an injury to your central nervous system or CNS is life-changing. The consequences are even more pronounced when you’re an athlete because of how important sports are to you. After all, physical movement is a big part of your life, whether you play competitively or not.

Unfortunately, most brain and spinal cord damages are irreversible. Doctors, researchers, and scientists are always hard at work finding ways to restore lost functions. But currently, there are no known cures for severe CNS injuries yet. Some regimes can handle mild symptoms and prevent further damage, but that’s the limit of physical therapy for now.

It’s not easy to accept this truth. After all, it carries a lot of weight and implications. And because of that, athletes who suffer from those damages develop psychological concerns. Even if it’s not a complete cure, psychotherapy can help you in your journey to get back up again. It’s not going to be a smooth ride. But with your therapist’s guidance and your perseverance, you can process your situation healthily.

The Mental And Emotional Toll Of CNS Injuries On Athletes

Damage to the brain or spinal cord range from mild and temporary symptoms to severe and permanent effects. To name a few, these include 

  • the loss of sight or sensation, 
  • impaired mental ability, 
  • lack of coordination, 
  • memory loss, and 
  • paralysis. 

And every single one dictates a halt in an athlete’s career or capability to play.

For those who experience severe and permanent effects, it may feel like the end of the world. After all, losing something you’re so accustomed to is already traumatic on its own. But to lose your career or hobby makes the experience even more painful. This experience often causes

  • depression, 
  • anxiety, 
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 
  • a feeling of isolation, or 
  • identity loss.

Those who suffer through mild or temporary symptoms don’t get off scot-free either. CNS injuries still cause damage to some fundamental body functions, no matter how severe they are. Along with depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions, you may also constantly feel stress from the fear of injuring yourself again. In addition, you may develop self-esteem issues, hypervigilance, extreme distress, and aversion toward what caused your injury.

The emotional toll is also substantial when you experience CNS damage. It becomes even heavier when it severely affects your participation in sports. Athletes often go through the five stages of grief when they get injured: 

  1. denial, 
  2. anger, 
  3. bargaining, 
  4. depression, and 
  5. acceptance. 

They don’t necessarily appear in order, and you may jump between them. Generally, athletes go through these stages because of the emotional and mental impact they experience from the trauma.

Moreover, your condition may lead you to develop mood disorders and anger issues. It may also cause you to close off and withdraw or bottle up your feelings of hatred. But either way, the negative effect of CNS injuries on athletes is immense.


The Role Of Psychotherapy In Getting Back Up

Athletes who suffer from CNS injuries may develop a sense of powerlessness over their situation. Often, they may feel like they’ve lost control and are frustrated by their lack of options. That is an extremely tough spot to be in, especially if you start to think you’re stuck forever. Therapy can help you work your way out of that headspace.

Your therapist will guide you through the process of accepting your situation. They’ll talk to you about your injury, experience, and emotions about those things. It may overwhelm and frustrate you, but it’s a crucial step in your journey toward acceptance. After all, you can’t move forward healthily without coming to terms with your experience.

Along with talking about your injury, they’ll also pay attention to its effects on you. In particular, your therapist will help you address some mental and emotional concerns you may have developed. They’ll also help you acknowledge your emotions and address them. After all, ignoring how you feel will only be detrimental to your journey forward. 

Overwhelming thoughts regarding your injury may engulf your mind and heart. But your therapist can help you sort through them all. They may recommend you join support groups to allow you to connect with others who share the same situation. Activities like this can aid you in shifting your energy toward acceptance and healing.


Moving Forward With Self-Advocacy

Having brain or spinal cord damage will bring changes to your life. It may be a simple routine change if you have mild and temporary symptoms. It may also be more significant shifts like relearning skills if you suffer from more severe and long-term effects. Sadly, it can also be depending on somebody else for daily tasks. But whatever the changes may be, you need to accept and adapt to them.

New personal needs, interests, and other factors may arise with these adjustments in your life. And to address those, your therapist will introduce you to the concept of self-advocacy. They’ll help you understand yourself, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. In addition, they’ll guide you in discovering and setting realistic personal goals you want to achieve.

Additionally, therapy will help you learn how to express yourself. With that skill, you’ll be able to communicate your wants and needs both to yourself and to other people. All these factors will support you in moving forward healthily toward the next chapter of your life.

To Wrap Up

It’s challenging for athletes to suffer from injuries, especially severe types, like brain and spinal cord damage. And it’s not just about the physical damage. Often, these injuries take a heavy toll on their emotional and mental well-being too.

Most of the time, it’s difficult for an athlete with CNS damage to accept their situation. Not only do these injuries cause physical limitations, but they also entail the loss of a beloved hobby, or sometimes, livelihood. It becomes easy to get stuck feeling helpless and powerless. However, therapy can support you to emerge above that kind of headspace.

Your therapist will help you understand and address both your situation and your feelings about it. They’ll support you in processing those things so that you can come to terms with your new reality. Therapy will guide you in learning how to express yourself, goals, thoughts, and emotions clearly.

It’s not going to be easy, but this is all for you and your well-being. Always remember, your therapist will be right beside you every step of the way.

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