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Life on a Pedestal: The Role of Therapy for Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers

“The good part about being famous is being able to help people. The hard part is every day you have to be in a good mood, because that is what people expect, you learn to get good at it.” – Michael Jordan

As a therapist reading this quote, there are five things that grab my attention from this one sentence.

  1. Being highly skilled and talented gives a person a bigger platform to make changes.
  2. There are unrealistic and unhealthy expectations attached to those who are placed on a pedestal.
  3. It is hard keeping up with other people’s expectations.
  4. Athletes and performers may often put up a façade in order to keep up with their “image” & high demand lifestyle.
  5. Anyone can benefit from seeing a therapist, regardless of one’s title.

There is complexity in the experience of stardom, but for most athletes, artists, and entertainers there is no preparation or coaching for how to manage these challenges. Therapy is a safe and supportive place to work through the unique stressors and demands required of those who find themselves living in the spotlight.

Separating What You Do from Who You Are

The amount of focus, commitment, dedication, and hard work that comes with being highly skilled at your craft is oftentimes underestimated. If you are a competing athlete or an artist in whatever form that may be (musical artist, actor/actress, producer, writer, designer, etc.) you understand the lifestyle and sacrifices that come with it. In the documentary, The Weight of Gold that Michael Phelps produced, he states, “I think it’s probably safe to say that 80% maybe more go through some sort of post-Olympic depression” (Rapkin, 2020). This struggle is not only felt by athletes, but rather most people who have celebrity status.  As we can see the challenge comes when our craft consumes us to the point where we start to lose sight of who we really are without whatever skill brought us the fame. Phelps stated, “There was one question that hit me like a ton of bricks. Who was I outside of the swimming pool? We are Olympic athletes, and we are not sure if we are anything else.” (Rapkin, 2020) There is a battle that takes place within our identity, because ultimately, we are not only what we do.

“I found that with depression, one of the most important things you can realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it, you’re not gonna be the last to go through it.” — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Oprah Winfrey Network, 2015).

Actor Michael B. Jordan described a similar struggle during his interview with Oprah. He talks about the process of preparing for his role as Killmonger in Black Panther. Michael described shutting out love and going into a dark place in order to prepare and get into the character of Killmonger. Michael was praised for the impressive job he did playing Killmonger, however he shared that he went to therapy afterwards because it was hard to make that transition back to normal after the movie was over after months of getting into character. He went on to describe how going to therapy and talking with someone really helped him and he advocated for prioritizing our mental health.  He specifically mentioned and encouraged therapy for men, who may think that they are “weak” if they admit to needing help, and for people of color, who have held onto the mental health stigma for far too long (Oprah Winfrey Network, 2019).

The Role of Therapy

Seeing a professional therapist would be ideal especially for athletes and artists whose job requires them to suppress or go in and out of certain emotions to get the job done. For athletes this can look like ‘showing no weakness’ and always remaining mentally tough. For actors/actresses, musicians, etc., this can be fighting through their own emotions and mental state while getting into character or putting the next project out.  These are high demand careers that take talent and can be rewarding. Therapy is a great foundation to have as one is maneuvering through the industry. It can help with the feeling of being lost, not having a voice, identity issues, working through trauma, getting life direction, healing, and so much more. Typically, individuals in the entertainment industry will have a specific team around them. Including a therapist that one feels comfortable with would be a great addition to any team.

“I was with someone recently who asked: ‘Well, don’t you think that if you do too much therapy it will take away your artistic process?’ And I told them: ‘The biggest lie that we’ve ever been sold is that we as artists have to stay in pain to create.’” — Katy Perry (Mental Health Match, 2020)

Find Your Form of Creative Therapy

 There are a variety of strategies that can be included in the therapy process, including art therapy, equine therapy, hitting a punching bag, writing a song, or working out. Any creative outlet can be paired with a professional therapist to get the most out of your sessions in a way that is specific to you as an individual. If you use art to express yourself, great! Bring that into the session. If you can express yourself more after a workout, that works too! Don’t put therapy in a box, find a therapist who is able to cater to your needs while keeping you on track with your goals.

Tips for Beginning Therapy

  • SEEK OUT THE RIGHT THERAPIST. Don’t let bad experiences with therapy prevent you from seeking help. There are good therapists out there! Utilize search engines, such as Psychology Today, or research certain practices to find a therapist that is right for you.
  • RELAX. It is normal to be a little nervous when first starting therapy, but you will often find it is more enjoyable than you may have imagined.
  • THERAPY IS CONFIDENTIAL. Privacy is at the center of therapy. What you share with your therapist is confidential information. Your identity and information is kept private with only a few exceptions, which include planning to hurt yourself or someone else.
  • IN PERSON OR VIRUTAL SERVICES? During the height of Covid many therapists began offering virtual counseling services. You can decide whether you want to see a therapist in person or virtually for the time being.

You May Be Asking… “Is therapy for me?”

Therapy is for everyone. Just as we ought to train our bodies to be in good physical shape in order to thrive and live a healthy life, we should also invest in our mental health. When you first begin exercising, it can sometimes be uncomfortable, or even painful, as your muscles are breaking down so they can grow back stronger. Think of therapy as your private arena where you can work out anything you need to to grow, thrive, and live a meaningful life.

“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about [experiencing a mental health struggle], you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.” — Prince Harry (Mental Health Match, 2020)

 

References

Mental Health Match, (2020, March 18). 101 Inspiring mental health quotes. https://mentalhealthmatch.com/articles/anxiety/inspiring-mental-health-quotes

Oprah Winfrey Network, (2015, Nov. 12). How a bout of depression led to Dwayne Johnson’s career defining moment. (Video) YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_T9Jg0U2DA&list=PLxfNIDcXa54-AOfW_iMBHQKM7cyKjf6Uy

Oprah Winfrey Network. (2019, March 10). Michael B. Jordan says he went to therapy after filming “Black Panther.” (Video) YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0V0h9WNUtU

Rapkin, B. (Director) (2020). Weight of Gold [Documentary] HBOSports.

 

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Arielle Miree

Arielle received her M.A. in Mental Health Counseling from Trinity International University. She has a passion for helping people heal and grow in order to live a meaningful life. She values authentic relationships and creating a safe space for clients. She has experience working with those struggling with addictions and co-occurring disorders. Arielle enjoys working with a variety of clients including athletes and artists. In addition to being a Licensed Professional Counselor Arielle is a Certified Personal Trainer.
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