Getting help for OCD/Anxiety

Getting started — about therapy, and how to fit it into your schedule

This content was originally published on the Galea Health website. Galea connects athletes with therapists and mental performance coaches who have worked extensively with athletes or were athletes themselves. We’re passionate about offering athletes access to holistic care, ranging from mental health to performance support. Alongside our provider network, Galea promotes mental health in athletics through blogs, resources, athlete stories, and our athlete advocate network.

Sorry, I can’t – I have practice.”

As an athlete, it’s common to turn down invites to activities that require your precious time. Between practice, class, lift, work, physical therapy, and studying, it might feel like you can’t possibly squeeze another appointment into your already bursting schedule. If you think you can pull the “I’m too busy” card on therapy too, slow your roll. Therapy is a time commitment, but, among countless other benefits to your mental health and well-being, it can even help you learn how to find more balance in your schedule. Whether you’re worried that therapy will take too much time, curious about how it will fit into your schedule, or wondering when you’ll cross the finish line, you’re in the right place at the right time.

Length of sessions

Therapy sessions generally range from 45 minutes to an hour long, with 50–55 minutes being the most common length of time for appointments. The initial session will generally be on the longer side, and the length of subsequent sessions will likely stay consistent. One of the benefits to online therapy is that there’s no need to worry about the time it takes to commute to and from the therapist’s office, which makes it exceedingly convenient for athletes with busy schedules. While it might feel daunting, you’re probably used to blocking off at least an hour of time in your calendar for practice, so, believe it or not, adding therapy to your calendar is probably more familiar than you expected.

When to meet

When it comes to scheduling, it’s also helpful to think about how frequently to attend sessions. Good news: agreeing on when to meet with your therapist is much less complicated than figuring out when you and your 20+ teammates are all free for a team meeting. *sigh of relief*. Depending on your preference, treatment plan, and the therapist’s practice, sessions might be once per week, once every other week, or once per month. Generally speaking, once a week is the most common frequency, and you will either have a set time that you’ll meet every week or you’ll schedule subsequent sessions with your therapist as you go.

Maximizing your time

Preparing for therapy and finding ways to approach sessions with lower levels of stress can help you use the time you have with your therapist more effectively. Some ways to make the most out of your sessions include:

  • schedule therapy for a time of day that you are most alert — e.g., if you’re a morning person, try to schedule sessions in the morning
  • practice taking deep breaths to feel more calm both before and during the session
  • keep a journal or a piece of paper with you to refer to or take notes on throughout the conversation

While it’s great to feel prepared, don’t feel pressured to spend this time any specific way. Even when sessions don’t feel “productive” or “efficient,” it’s significant that you’ve set aside time to focus on your mental health, and going to therapy deserves to be a priority even if it does take some time. Devoting ~50 minutes to your mental health and wellbeing each week will increase your ability to manage many aspects of your life with more grace and mindfulness — this is a cycle that will benefit you both in the short and the long run!

Number of sessions

Athletes’ goal-oriented nature might drive them to want to know exactly when they will cross the finish line for therapy. Truth be told, there isn’t always a distinct end time for therapy, and the course of treatment will vary depending on symptoms, type of treatment, and personal journeys. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often focuses on problem-solving and behavioral changes, so it can be a shorter-term treatment plan. Even so, the number of sessions often range from five to 20, and it’s completely normal for people to attend more sessions if they’re continuing to find them valuable. Psychotherapy tends to be a longer-term treatment model, lasting from several months to several years. In general, it’s common to meet with your therapist for at least a few weeks and often several months, and your therapist should check in to determine whether therapy is continuing to feel valuable to you.

It can be helpful to view taking care of your mental health similar to how you view taking care of your physical health. You’ll probably rev up treatment during an injury, but you’re also likely to prioritize preventative exercises (icing, rolling out, stretching, rehab) even when you’re feeling okay. When you consider how long to stay in therapy, know that therapy can be both an ongoing process and a tool that you can turn to as needed.

At the end of the day, fitting therapy sessions into your schedule is just as important as (if not more important than) fitting classes, work, and practice into your schedule. As with training sessions, therapy sessions can help you learn more about yourself and develop skills to strengthen your mind-body connection. So, to answer your question: yes, you do have time for therapy! If you’re still doubtful, try having a short introductory call with a therapist and mentioning your time concerns. The best way to determine if therapy is right for you and your busy schedule is by giving it a try!

Eating disorder support guide for athletes

How to start a conversation if you’re struggling

If you’re concerned about your relationship with food and body image, the idea of reaching out to someone for support, especially as an athlete, can feel overwhelming. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to tell someone about your eating disorder, and it is helpful to be as honest and straightforward as possible about how you’re feeling. Reaching out for support is way more important than knowing exactly what you want to say.

Steps for reaching out

  1. Approach someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to, such as a trainer, parent, friend, or counselor.
  2. Communicate however feels most comfortable for you. Meet face-to-face, over the phone/video call, or write a letter.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Opening up takes courage and vulnerability. There are additional resources available and ways to seek support even if the conversation doesn’t go as planned.

Conversation starters

  1. “I’m worried. I think I have an unhealthy relationship with food.”
  2. “I’m feeling really drained but feel really guilty about eating.”
  3. “I’m thinking about food all the time and don’t know how to stop.”
  4. “I think I have an eating disorder.”
  5. “My friends/parents have said they’re worried about my eating."

Additional resources

National Eating Disorder Association Helpline (call or text (800) 931-2237)

For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line.

Cali Werner running a marathon
Runner about to start a race