Sports Therapy

The psychology of sport is widely researched and documented.  As a practice, more and more sportsmen and women are realising the benefits both physically and mentally.  Of the many techniques, EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is perhaps one of the lesser known, but it is becoming increasingly popular as a successful treatment method for those struggling with confidence/performance issues. EMDR has been successfully used to enhance and improve performance, not only in the competitive world of business, but also for professional athletes.

Performing at a competitive level is demanding, professional athletes need to be able to cope with intense scrutiny, on both a personal level and from the media.  Negative performance, particularly on a repetitive basis can have devastating long-term effects, initiating a protracted performance inhibition.  Fundamentally, this means the vulnerable athlete struggles with high levels of performance anxiety and distorted perspectives of their skills.

Confidence can be an issue at any age and can seriously affect performance, particularly in sport.   This became a major concern for Sian Reddick, a young, extremely talented lady golfer who approached me for help.   She was suffering with a major crisis in confidence and a general inability to focus on her performance. 

This lack of focus not only affected her game, it also meant that Sian no longer enjoyed something she had previously been so passionate about.  She became fixated with the negative aspects of her golf and found it difficult to stay ‘in the zone’.  As time progressed, Sian became more and more nervous, anxious and frustrated with herself.

“I was playing terribly and the worse I played the more annoyed I became.  More worryingly, I became aggressive with those around me – this was when I knew I had to take action.” said Sian.

I felt that, with such a prolific talent, it was important to address the problem quickly and effectively in order for Sian to progress in her chosen sport.

The target of our sessions was to elicit Sian’s core beliefs – these were limiting her ability to play at her maximum capacity. Once she had replaced her negative beliefs with more healthy positive beliefs she saw a rapid improvement in her performance. Sian spent six hourly sessions with me, restoring her self-belief and lifting her levels of confidence and motivation significantly.  Her performance improved significantly, culminating with her winning the English ladies match play championship.

For Sian, her golf was significantly affected by this recurrent negative performance experience, which resulted in the secretion of increased levels of a chemical called Noradrenaline, a stimulant neurotransmitter associated with trauma. Noradrenaline leads to a state of hyper alertness and intense anxiety, as well as contributing to the replaying of the distressing event.  If this state of mind is maintained or increased, then the brain level of Noradrenaline secretion continues to surge.  Consequently, Sian experienced agitation and confusion with an inability to concentrate and focus on tasks. Fundamentally, she was plagued by a self-perpetuating negative spiral.

EMDR addresses this negative thought process by alternating stimulation of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This facilitates the resynchronisation of the phasic firing of the two hemispheres – essentially restoring the brain wave activity and chemical secretion to a normal state.  During this bilateral stimulation the athlete focuses cognitively on the distorted beliefs regarding his/her performance which stem from the negative effects.  EMDR physiologically accomplishes a cognitive rebalancing – restoring the previous level of performance, enabling enhanced performance in the future.

The treatment is driven by bilateral brain stimulation, whereby the athlete allows me to tap on the right and left hands or listens to sound moving from ear to ear , which stimulates powerful brain activity.  Simultaneously, the athlete reactivates an image, with its associated sensory experiences and negative self belief (e.g., I’m no good, I can’t do it).  This process generates emotions which are often felt as body sensations.  With the bilateral stimulation, the athlete is then instructed to uncritically follow his/her thoughts and associations which can lead to the retrieval of old memories and rapid insights.  In turn, after an EMDR experience, the athlete is able to believe that the crisis is in the past and can focus on performing at a superior level.  Once these blocks to performance have been removed, the athlete is then able to imagine performing the task at the peak of their performance, once again, using bilateral stimulation of the brain. This allows the brain to open up new neural networks that then operate as the athlete performs their chosen sport.

As a clinical treatment, EMDR is an incredibly effective and successful technique and can result in life-changing experiences.

I have used this technique numerous times with both professional and amateur sportsmen and sportswomen, including children and young people, and the success rate has been truly astounding.