Breaking Walls Counseling

Erica Gallmeyer, MSW, LCSW

317-893-4006

Therapists’ children need help too: My transparent introduction

November 25th, 2014 by

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My first blog entry….yeah!  Well, it was supposed to be exciting.  I had been planning to blog about this unique model of treatment for athletes and performers I’ve created.  I was anxiously awaiting the responses to my “brilliant” trailblazing approach.  The way I had it pictured in my mind was that folks were going to share my first blog with all their friends and coaches and organizations.  Finally, I would be legitimized (is that even a word?).  Even though I have been helping people through therapy for almost 13 years and even though I have helped numerous athletes, at various levels of competition, get through difficult times….this blog was going to share what I do with the WORLD.

And then God arrives on the scene to knock me off my high horse and remind me why I am really here, which certainly isn’t for my own glory……..

I graduated with my Master’s Degree several years ago and starting working as a family therapist.  I became quite knowledgeable about a variety of therapeutic approaches.  My career evolved into working with individuals who are affected by trauma where I learned more about stress, the responses to stress and emotional paralysis than I could have ever imagined.  Just a few years ago, my career took an even bigger turn when my daughter, who is a very talented competitive gymnast experienced a “Mental Block” (which is a term that we don’t even like to utter in the gym for fear that it will spread like an infectious disease).  My fearless little girl, who was moving through the ranks and had just claimed her first State All-Around Champion title, would stand there….on the balance beam….frozen.  The events that proceeded are too detailed for me to write, but let’s just say that my child’s struggle motivated me to seek out guidance, instruction and education related to helping other athletes break through their blocks and overcome fears.

My “doors” to my counseling business opened over a year ago (though I had been counseling athletes unofficially long before that).  My daughter, who’s story was pretty well known in the club gymnastics world became my “walking advertisement” if you will.  Parents began coming to me in droves, begging for help with their children.  I have worked with young athletes who suffer from severe mental blocks, to those who battle performance anxiety, dealing with personal stress and so on.  I must say, what I have learned over these years about the mind of an athlete is remarkable.  My daughter successfully made it through her mental block (with the help of an INCREDIBLE coach) and once again began moving through the levels.  It appears that the sky is the limit for her.  So, I have become somewhat emotionally detached from what it feels like to be the Mom of the young athlete battling these issues.  I can work with my clients very objectively and advise their parents to be patient with the process and simply provide unconditional love and support.  While I relate to what these parents and athletes are dealing with, I am fully detached.

Remember in the beginning when I said God knocked me off of my high horse….well, yeah…here comes that part.  I have two daughters, both are gymnasts.  My baby girl, the fierce one, never struggled with fear or confidence issues.  Friends and family would joke that she has an alter ego when she performs.  She gets into “the zone” and channels her “inner Beyoncé’”.  I’ve always loved watching my baby girl because her lines are so beautiful and poise is inspiring.  Truly, I never thought she would go through what her big sister did.  Besides, my profession is to enhance the mental health of athletes.  Surely, mine are the healthiest out there, right??

I walked in to the girls’ practice a week ago as it was team picture day.  I just happened to catch my baby girl on the balance beam.  I was so excited to see her new optional routine.  As expected, her presence on that beam demanded attention.  Her movements were so fluid and her lines and shapes….wow!  A spiritual display really.  But suddenly she stopped.  My stomach dropped and I began having flashbacks of my oldest daughter standing on the beam paralyzed.  My baby stood there, with her arms up, shaking, sweating with the look of terror in her eyes.  It’s happening…..AGAIN…..

I felt punched in the stomach and I began saying things to myself, “this can’t be happening again.  It’s not possible to have two children go through the same thing.  I am a sports counselor, this shouldn’t be happening to my kid.  I am not a pushy parent; does she feel pressured, certainly not by me, right? What have I done wrong?  Did she inherit my anxiety?  People are going to think I am a phony.  Who would come to me for counseling when my own child is plagued with fear?”  In an instant, I went from being the professional who had it all under control to the Mother who is absolutely helpless.

We are in the midst of this mental battle currently and I know what it takes to see the other side.  My little girl has a long road ahead of her.  Mommy has a long road ahead of her.  It is likely she will not compete, at least at the beginning of the season.  My heart breaks for her.  She has trained all spring and summer and in one instant, it’s gone.  I’ve had a few days to process it and step back to get into “objective” mode and I realize that, like my oldest daughter, my baby WILL get through this.  AND, she will be stronger because of it.

Here is the bottom line…..Mental Blocks are complex.  Sometimes people use the term interchangeably with fear.  There is quite a difference.  Fear is functional and almost every athlete experiences some fear.  This is normal, and helpful, and frankly probably saves many of them from serious injury.  Mental Blocks are fears and anxieties that go untreated or treated ineffectively.  A Mental Block can spread to other areas as well.  Dr. Peter Levine, the Godfather of trauma (at least that’s what I call him) explains that immobilization, overtime, can lead to feelings of helplessness which in an athlete can look like depression.  I believe a mental block should be treated like an injury….granted, an emotional injury, but an injury nonetheless.  The athlete should be provided with a safe environment where the can “rehab”.  I will discuss the process of this “rehabilitation” in another blog at another time.  My daughters are very blessed to be in a gym where they will be free to work through their fears and blocks at their own pace, in a pressure free, supportive environment.  It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village of loving adults to raise mentally healthy children.

So there you have it….the “helper” is in a position of once again needing help.  And THANK GOD for that.  I would much rather be writing this transparent piece that invites others to share their struggles and create a community of people who are simply surviving than to write a piece filled with big words and scientific references (although I will do that at some point…wink wink).  If you or your child is struggling like my baby is, reach out, communicate and know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  I am humbly reminded EXACTLY why I do what I do.