Counseling Center to pilot mindfulness group for athletes
Athletics' effects on the brain have received much attention in recent years, mostly through coverage of the long-term damage concussions can cause. This month, the Counseling Service is taking note of a less well-known issue regarding athletics and the brain: the impact sports can have on the psychological elements of athletes’ mental wellness.
Staff Clinician Mindy Slovinsky and Director of the Counseling Service and Wellness Programs Bernie Hershberger will soon inaugurate a sports psychology program through the Counseling Service designed to help student-athletes cope with mental blocks and stress. In his past 18 years at Bowdoin, Hershberger has helped Bowdoin athletes exercise their minds as needed. The new program will operate as weekly group sessions for any interested student-athlete.
The program will start in mid-October and run for six or seven weeks. Slovinsky said she hopes the group will serve eight to 12 students. The sessions will guide the student-athletes through meditative exercises such as conscious breathing and visualization—part of what Slovinsky calls acceptance and commitment therapy.
The ultimate goal, according to Slovinsky, is not to improve athletic performance but to help student-athletes stay aware of their thoughts. When student-athletes start succumbing to internal pressures such as a fear of failure, she said, they may exhibit detrimental behaviors like cutting classes, skipping practices and not performing as well in games.
“The therapy strives to help people be more mindful, be more present in the moment—instead of up in their heads worrying about what might happen or how they’re feeling,” said Slovinsky. “[Student-athletes] worry about those things instead of actually being present in the moment, engaged and doing stuff that’s important to them.”
A study recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience by researchers from University of California, San Diego, found that mPEAK training, a mindfulness regimen similar to the new Counseling Service program, enhanced athletes’ awareness of bodily signals and allowed better anticipation of and recovery from internal impulses.
Student-athletes in Bowdoin’s new program will do exercises similar to those of mPEAK, in which scientists had the athletes “mentally scan their bodies, carefully noting how each limb and internal organ felt at that moment. They also had them breathe through straws and stick their hands in ice water to accentuate their ability to focus on immediate and stressful physical sensations,” according to a New York Times article published on Wednesday.
After the mindfulness training, athletes reported lower levels of alexithymia-the inability to recognize emotions and their subtleties and textures. The training also improved the athletes’ capacity to regulate psychological pressure by considering body sensations. This practice may help reduce anxiety, improve resilience and strengthen the sense of one’s body as safe and trustworthy.
Head Coach of Women’s Rugby MaryBeth Mathews said that meditative programming had been largely useful to her team in the past, and she welcomes a new program at Bowdoin.
“Mental strength and toughness are key to the foundation for any student’s success, both in the classroom and in sport,” said Mathews. “Athletes can learn to control their attitude and mental strength via exercising their minds so that the ‘default’ is a positive and high-performing discipline with less stress, more relaxation [and] more mind-body control.”
Women’s Soccer Head Coach Brianne Weaver pointed to Hershberger’s support as critical to their success.
“[Hershberger] has led guided meditations for us that help us achieve a greater ability to focus and approach the game from a positive state of mind, and those sessions have been central to our approach to the pressure of playoffs and the postseason,” Weaver said.
New hire Peterson ’07 to focus on preventing campus sexual violence as part of Title IX team
Lisa Peterson ’07 assumed two new positions in Bowdoin’s administration on Monday. She will serve simultaneously as Bowdoin’s Associate Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education and as the College’s Director of Accommodations for Students with Disabilities—both newly created jobs on the Title IX team. Peterson will also hold the title of Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
President Clayton Rose first announced the new positions and Peterson’s hire in a September 17 email to the Bowdoin community. In that email, Rose stressed that the single employee designated to coordinate Title IX education and response “is truly just a baseline in our ongoing efforts to build an inclusive community and to be vigilant about meeting the needs of students, faculty, and staff.”
“At this time in the history at Bowdoin, we realize that [Peterson’s job] is a position that could be very helpful for students,” said Director of Title IX and Compliance Benje Douglas.Peterson will focus on sexual violence prevention and education.
“The challenge for me in thinking about programming will be moving beyond just awareness-raising and to behavior change because I really believe that sexual violence is completely preventable,” said Peterson.
Ultimately, Peterson hopes that this programming will eventually achieve her goal of preventing violence on campus.
Peterson has already met with The Sex Project—a student group dedicated to providing comprehensive, practical and medically accurate sexual health education to the Bowdoin community. She will soon meet with leaders from student groups such as Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence, Safe Space, V-Day and V-Space. In those meetings, Peterson will listen to what students have to say.
“Students know better than I do as to what appeals to students the most, about whether students like going to lectures or film discussions,” said Peterson. “I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to come in with my own agenda. I think my task is to do a lot of listening to what the student groups are already doing and what students feel would be engaging and effective in working with students.”
As Director of Accommodations for Students with Disabilities, Peterson will help connect students with disabilities to the accommodations they need, such as extra time on tests or special housing accommodations. Before this role was created, accommodations requests were handled by former Dean of First-Year Students Michael Wood and Associate Dean for Upperclass Students Lesley Levy. Peterson believes that her dual roles in gender violence prevention and accommodations harmonize in their shared goal to guarantee equity of access to education at Bowdoin.
Peterson comes to Bowdoin with plenty of experience in gender violence prevention. After graduating from Bowdoin in 2007 with a major in psychology and a minor in English, she earned a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health.While a student at Harvard, Peterson volunteered at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.
“[Working at the center] put me on a trajectory to think about violence prevention as my true passion and true calling,” Peterson said. “Because sexual violence is something that affects an entire community, as a member of that community, it’s part of my responsibility to make sure that I prevent that from happening.”
After earning her master’s, Peterson worked for three years at the Boston Public Health Commission in the Division of Violence Prevention as a policy analyst. In that role, Peterson worked on domestic violence prevention, gang violence prevention and teen dating violence prevention.
At the Boston Public Health Commission, Peterson worked to train adult staff at child care centers to help youths affected by violence or other traumas. That experience reinforced her belief that Bowdoin’s programming must be safe and available for all students—whether they’ve been affected by trauma or not.
Douglas strongly supports Peterson’s goal to end sexual violence on campus.
“Our great mandate is our goal—it’s to eliminate all discrimination on campus,” said Douglas. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was achievable.”