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What Role Does Mental Health Have When Dealing With an Injury?

So often, the health industry tries to separate aspects of health into separate, distinct categories: mental, emotional, physical, social health, and spiritual. At Made 2 Move, our physical therapists seek to acknowledge all these pillars and not separate them into their own categories. This is one of the driving forces behind the variety of speakers and companies we interview on the Healthy Charleston Podcast!

“Mental health-informed movement professionals.” This is the title of a recent instagram post by Alaskan fitness trainer, Sarah Mehl Histand (@sarahmhistand). While no one is defined or limited by their job title, we love the way she defines herself as a “mental health-informed adventure fitness trainer.”

We love being able to connect with members in our community whose work goes beyond just the physical therapy and exercise sphere of health. At Made 2 Move, we aim to make physical therapy an ever evolving field, and this includes adopting a more mental-health informed mindset.

Becoming More Mental-Health Informed

Focusing in on the mental pillar of health, we can learn a lot about a person. As movement professionals here at Made 2 Move, we have learned how to tailor our treatment methods to an individual. Everyone has different motivations and comes to physical therapy in different emotional states. Encouraging someone to grind out a heavy last rep might be beneficial for a competitive former athlete but might be intimidating for someone who has never stepped foot in a weight room. It is our job as physical therapists to recognize these individual differences and cater programming to match it.

How can we become more mentally health informed in the movement space? How can we tailor our treatment plans to be inclusive of all people? Breaking down mental health barriers is key to success and longevity in the movement space. Sarah Histand broke down 6 ways we can give mental health the attention it deserves in relation to our physical health. We will dive into these 6 practices below..

6 Practices to Becoming a More Mentally Informed Movement Professional

There are likely far more than 6 ways to break down the mental health barriers that discourage many people from getting into fitness. The 6 Sarah Histand broke down were gold and are a solid foundation for building a more mental health informed practice.

  1. Feedback only when warranted and asked for

    • All of us have had someone come up to us at the gym and tell us, “you should try this,” “you’re doing that exercise wrong,” or something along these lines. The truth: people don’t want to hear advice from someone that they don’t know and trust. Even more specifically, most people don’t want your advice unless they ask for it. Offering advice without someone’s approval can be discouraging to the person, as it can make them feel like they have a problem. This gets back to not giving unsolicited advice. Instead, always ask before offering your opinions or feedback to someone. This could look like first asking, “Are you looking for feedback on this?” before ever offering an opinion.

  2. “Always direct people back to their own body & their own authority” (Histand 2022).

    • At Made 2 Move, we hold the belief that we are not here to “fix” you. As physical therapists, we can give you the tools to move better and get out of pain, but you hold the power to make the change. Histand describes what an empowering movement scenario could look like:

      1. “Here are a couple things you could experiment with. With this one you might notice more stability in your knee…or not! Try it and let me know what you notice” (Histand 2022).

    • Every person’s body is going to move, squat, walk, and run differently. Thus, saying there’s a “right way” to do a certain movement, sucha deadlift is wrong. Sure, there is an optimal form for a deadlift, but the actual movement will vary from person to person. We can give you cues and guidance, but everyone is going to perform movements in a slightly different manner and that’s the beautiful thing about the human body!

  3. Challenge by choice, rather than pressure to push

    • “Go hard or go home” and other mantras are the reason patients are seeing us for physical therapy in the first place. While there is truth to the mantra “mind over matter” and pushing through a tolerable amount of pain as part of the healing process, the tolerable evel is ultimately up to the patient, not the coach or PT. Mental health-informed challenges have to be done at a level that matches or just exceeds our threshold; doing too much can put unwanted stress on our systems. We can encourage, but not force. More is not always better.

  4. “Allow for (and celebrate) messiness in the movement journey” (Histand 2022).

    • Perfection is not synonymous with growth. Didn’t get enough sleep the night before? Even though you’re on track to do Day 5 of your lifting program, it might not be the best thing for your body that day. Movement can be healing when done in alignment with what our bodies need. Tune into the healing nature of movement and move in a way that serves you, not in a way that you feel like you “should.”

  5. “Encourage feel-good movement” (Histand 2022)

    • Feel-good movement is going to be different for everyone. For one person it may look like a soul-crushing Crossfit WOD, while for someone else it might be a brisk walk with their dog. This goes back to tuning into our bodies, knowing you are the CEO of your body and your health is highly individualized.

  6. “Separate movement practices from weight, ability, and anything else thats not helpful” (Histand 2022).

    • It seems like a large goal of exercise these days is to lose weight. We have lost sight of the mental benefits, the community aspect, and the simple feel-good qualities that exercise holds. Leaving body comments out of the gym and knowing that not everyone works out for the goal of losing or gaining weight is crucial. Our ancestors didn’t hit the gym and certainly weren’t concerned with body aesthetics, rather they focused on all the other important aspects of health. It’s time we do the same!

At Made 2 Move, we aim to help our patients become the best version of themselves in all facets, not just the physical realm. How can we be better mental-health informed movement professionals? Let us know- we love to hear feedback from our patients and community! Reach out to today to set up an initial evaluation or to simply give us feedback on how we are doing and how we can improve.


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