Tag Archives: Sports

Laumann: Finding the courage to be authentic

By Bethany Bray April 2, 2016

Silken Laumann is a world-class rower and three-time Olympic medalist. But she says that isn’t the hardest and most important work she has done in her life.

“The most incredible journey I’ve been on is the internal one – the journey of the soul,” says Laumann, a Canadian author, speaker and advocate. “It takes courage to become who you really

Silken Laumann speaks at ACA's 2016 Conference & Expo in Montréal. Photo by Paul Sakuma

Silken Laumann speaks at ACA’s 2016 Conference & Expo in Montréal. Photo by Paul Sakuma

are. … We are given the opportunity to go deep within ourselves. It’s the greatest opportunity we can ever take.”

Laumann shared her story with approximately 2,500 professional counselors in a heartfelt keynote address this morning at the American Counseling Association Conference & Expo in Montréal.

Laumann became a household name in Canada — and, for many Canadians, the very embodiment of courage — when she overcame a severe injury to win a bronze medal in single sculls at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Ten weeks before the Olympics, Laumann’s leg was shattered when another sculling boat collided with hers during a warm-up run.

In addition to her comeback win in 1992, Laumann had previously won a bronze medal in double sculls at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and would go on to win a silver medal in single sculls at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. She was also chosen to carry Canada’s flag during the closing ceremonies of the 1992 games.

In this morning’s keynote, Laumann was open about her struggles with anxiety and depression, which she treats with a combination of medication and counseling.

After her Olympic days were over, she led a life that, from the outside, looked like she had it all together as a mother and public persona, Laumann says.

However, “there were some signs that all was not well in my little perfect world,” she says. “In my life, at that time, help was for people with bigger problems – weaker people. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.”

It was a counselor, Laumann says, who pulled her from rock bottom — a crisis moment years ago when she was harboring so much internal rage that she had thoughts about lashing out and harming her children during a moment of uncontrolled anger.

Laumann says counseling gave her the confidence to eventually be (and show compassion for) her authentic self rather than trying to guard and live up to her polished public persona. Counseling also helped her come to terms with her story, including her troubled childhood, and learn to heal, she says.

Laumann always understood that what happened in her childhood – growing up with a mother who

Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today

Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today

was unpredictable and threatening at times – “wasn’t right,” she says. But it didn’t fully click until her counselor asked her how she would feel if her own daughter, Kate, was in that situation.

Finding self-compassion and love for her authentic self “transformed everything,” including her relationship with her children, Laumann says.

“My kids have an authentic person [for a mother] now,” she says. “I felt like I was putting on the mask of a mother [before].”

Laumann credited counseling with breaking the cycle of abuse that runs in her family. What if a counselor had not been there at her rock-bottom moment, she asked the audience of counselors.

“I am deeply grateful for this profession,” Laumann told the crowd. “We need to make counseling available to everyone who needs it.”

Laumann represented Canada for 13 years in international competitions and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

She is married with four children, including a stepdaughter, Kilee, who is profoundly autistic. In addition to participating in author events and speaking engagements, Laumann engages in a significant amount of advocacy work, including fundraising for autism causes with her husband, David Patchell-Evans.

After her keynote, Laumann met with counselors and signed copies of her 2014 memoir, Unsinkable.





Learn more about Silken Laumann and her advocacy work at silkenlaumann.com


Related reading: See Counseling Today’s profile of Laumann: wp.me/p2BxKN-491




ACA’s 2016 conference, held in partnership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, runs through April 3.

See more photos of ACA’s 2016 Conference and Expo at flickr.com/photos/23682700@N04/


Interested in Live Streaming the 2016 Conference to earn 15 CEs? Go to counseling.org/conference/montreal-aca-2016/livestreaming


Silken Laumann receives a gift from Natasha Caverley, president of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), after her keynote on April 2. Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today

Silken Laumann receives a thank you gift from Natasha Caverley, president of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), after her keynote on April 2. Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today





Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

From NFL linebacker to licensed professional counselor

By Bethany Bray June 22, 2015

Playing football in the National Football League (NFL) is not a career, it’s an experience, said Dwight Hollier, a former NFL linebacker who became a licensed professional counselor (LPC) after his playing days were over.

This lesson – one that took Hollier years to learn – is part of the message that he is working to spread throughout the NFL as part of the league’s new total wellness initiative.

The average player spends three and a half years in the NFL, according to Hollier. For players who

Dwight Hollier, a licensed professional counselor and the NFL's director of transition and clinical services, speaks at Mental Health America's annual conference this month in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo by B. Bray/Counseling Today

Dwight Hollier, a licensed professional counselor and the NFL’s director of transition and clinical services, speaks at Mental Health America’s annual conference this month in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by B. Bray/Counseling Today)

are drafted out of college, that average jumps to six years. Either way, it’s not a long time, said Hollier, who returned to the NFL in 2012 as director of transition and clinical services.

Hollier, speaking earlier this month at Mental Health America’s annual conference in Alexandria, Virginia, said he became depressed after retiring from playing in 2000. For a couple of years, he even stopped watching the sport he had loved since childhood.

“I didn’t know who I was without what I did,” said Hollier, who played eight years with the Miami Dolphins and one year with the Indianapolis Colts after starring in college at the University of North Carolina. “I would go cut the grass on Sundays [when NFL games were televised]. We had a very nice lawn at that time,” he said with a chuckle.

Today, Hollier is part of the NFL’s effort to support current and former players and their families off the field with everything from mental health issues and family relationships to adjusting to life after leaving the league.

“If you’ve been the best in the world at whatever you do, and then someone says you can’t do it anymore [because of injury, age or other reasons], that will affect you,” said Hollier, who previously worked as a licensed counselor in private practice before going to work for the NFL.

The NFL’s total wellness initiative includes everything from an employee assistance program that offers a series of free counseling sessions for current and former players and their families to financial literacy classes for young players who suddenly find themselves with money to spare. In 2012, the NFL established a 24/7 crisis line tailored to the needs of current and former players and their families.

Last year, Hollier was part of league-wide trainings on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

“‘No, we don’t talk about that’ – that’s they way a lot of us were raised,” said Hollier. “This [total wellness program] gives us a platform to have important discussions. … These guys are more likely to listen to someone who has worn the boots [played football professionally].”

Part of the challenge is changing the “play through the pain” mentality that can permeate football, from professional players all the way down through the youth leagues. As a child, Hollier says he remembers being told to “suck it up” to keep others from seeing weakness or pain.

“If you hear that all the time, it becomes your modus operandi,” he said. “You internalize it, and it makes it more difficult to reach out for help.”

Dwight Hollier (Photo courtesy of the National Football League)

Dwight Hollier (Photo courtesy of the National Football League)

Hollier is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a dual degree in psychology and speech communication. He earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida, while playing linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. Prior to joining the NFL, Hollier worked with athletes and other individuals at Mind Over Body at Southeast Psych, a private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina.






Q+A with the NFL’s Dwight Hollier


Counseling Today: What made you decide to become a counselor?

Dwight Hollier: I think I was always a good listener growing up. I also know that my parents were giving people. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we always had room for others. I have three siblings, but there were times where we had three or four other family members living with us. That spirit of giving and helping has stuck with me even to this day. I have to give my parents a lot of credit for the counseling spirit.


CT: You worked on your master’s degree in counseling while you played for the Miami Dolphins. Talk about how you decided on your post-playing vocation while still playing in the NFL.

DH: My undergraduate degree was speech communications and psychology. Psychology connected with me in a way speech communications did not, but I didn’t initially make the connection. When I was in my sixth year in the league, my teammates started calling me the “old dude” in the locker room, which really made me think that I probably needed to figure out what I was going to do next. I was only 27 or 28, but I had already beaten the odds, and I knew I should start exploring my life after football.

Fortunately, the Miami Dolphins training camp is located next to the Nova Southeastern University campus, and they had a fantastic counseling psychology program. I initially took a couple of classes to see if I could handle the workload. My coach at the time, Jimmy Johnson, and the rest of the coaching staff were really supportive, which allowed me to confidently pursue this degree. The program spoke to me right away, and I poured myself into being successful in both and was able to graduate in April of 2000, before playing my last season with the Indianapolis Colts.


CT: Could you talk about the counseling work you did before working for the NFL? Do you have a specialty?

DH: My initial practicum work was at a family violence center, where I worked with perpetrators and victims of abuse. The majority of my experience has been working with older adolescents and young adults around a variety of mental health issues. In my last couple of years of private practice, I did a lot of work with athletes around transition and adjustment challenges. I have worked as a foster care program manager, group home adviser, school social worker and football coach. All of these experiences helped shape the person I am today.


CT: Can you elaborate on what you do as director of transition and clinical services with the NFL?

DH: In my current role, I work with a great team of individuals in the Player Engagement Department to develop and implement psychoeducational programs for our NFL family to assist with success on and beyond the field. I also collaborate with our clinical partners to make sure we have the right wellness resources in place to assist players and their families.


CT: What made you want to get involved in this way?

DH: Some would say that I did a lot of things right in preparing for my transition, and I would agree. But I also know how difficult my transition was, even though I [had] put a lot of pieces in place. I know that there are a lot of men and families who have had a much shorter NFL experience and some who haven’t finished their undergraduate degree. This role is an opportunity to serve those men and their families and assist in smoothing out their transition in and out of the NFL.


CT: How do you use your counselor training and skills in this role?

DH: One of the main tools any counseling professional needs is unconditional positive regard and listening skills. Part of my role is listening and working to identify the needs of our population and working collaboratively to find the right resources.


CT: Why do you think your position is needed in the NFL?

DH: I believe all industries could use a sharper focus on wellness and the potential clinical needs of their workforce. I am blessed to have this opportunity.


CT: As an NFL insider, what would you want counselors who work with clients for whom professional football plays a prominent part or influence in their lives — devotion to a team, spending many hours watching games, etc. — to know?

DH: I think it is important to leave their assumptions and biases at the door. Cultural competency will play a big role as well. Because of the high profile of the NFL, our men and their families are easily stereotyped. The reality is that our men and families come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and each should be treated as such. One bad experience with a counselor who doesn’t understand the culture could mean that this person never returns for the assistance he needs and potentially discourages others.


CT: Do you think there is more focus today on the mental health and wellness needs of professional athletes than when you were a player?

DH: In general, mental health awareness is much more prevalent than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s when I played. We have been much more intentional with addressing the stigma around mental health with our population. I also think that this generation is more aware and accepting of mental health issues and resources.


CT: What advice would you give to counselors who want to get involved with high-level athletes? Where or how could counselors be a help?

DH: I think it is important to learn as much as you can about athletes and the needs of athletes. There are great sports counseling and sports psychology programs out there that can help add a level of expertise to working with this population.




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org


Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday


Counseling, sports and ‘coming out’: Michael Sam’s ripple effect

By Bethany Bray March 6, 2014

Is the National Football League ready for an openly gay player? What about society at large?

Many in the media have been raising these questions since University of Missouri football star and NFL prospect Michael Sam “came out” in interviews this winter.


Michael Sam on the football field in 2013. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The defensive lineman from Hitchcock, Texas, had told his Mizzou teammates about his sexual orientation last year. He came out to the wider public in interviews with the New York Times and ESPN in early February.

The announcement made waves because Sam is said to be the first athlete to come out as gay before securing a job with an NFL team.

The ripple effect of Sam’s announcement will be felt across professional sports, certainly, but also down through youth sports and the counseling profession itself, say Taunya Tinsley and Hugh Crethar.

Crethar, an associate professor of counseling at Oklahoma State University, is president of the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, a division of the American Counseling Association. Tinsley, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor at California University of Pennsylvania, helped to found and facilitates ACA’s Sports Counseling Interest Network.

Sam, a Missouri senior, led his team to a win this year at the Cotton Bowl.  He was a first-team All-American and was voted Missouri’s most valuable player by his teammates. He is widely regarded as a professional prospect, but draft experts have questioned whether his revelation will hurt his stock in the upcoming NFL draft.

Jason Collins, who plays in the National Basketball Association, became the first active male professional athlete in a major American team sport to publicly come out as gay in spring of 2013.


Q+A: When athletes comes out


Do you see Michael Sam’s “coming out” having an impact on professional sports, and even youth and school sports or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues?

Tinsley: Absolutely! It has been said that “sport permeates all aspects of society and that even a person with very little interest in sport will interact with it in some way.” Additionally, the sporting environment is a microcosm of our society and, vice versa, society is reflective of the sporting environment. Gary Sailes and Louis Harrison (Sailes, G. & Harrison, L. Jr. (2008). Social issues of sport. In (A. Leslie-Toogood & E. Gill (Eds.), Advising student athletes. Monograph Series Number 18, National Academic Advising Association) state, “while racism, sexism, cheating, commercialism, education, socialization (among other factors) exist in society, they also exist in sport. People in society are the same individuals who make up sport. It is logical to assume that they bring the same values, culture and behavior to sport [including youth, K-12, college and professional sports] that they exhibit outside of sport.” Thus, it is important that those who work with the athlete population become knowledgeable of their specific needs, serve as support systems, develop culturally appropriate preventative programs and services as well as interventions, and engage in open and honest dialogue with the diversity of constituents within the athletic environment.

Crethar: Like others who have come before — such as Jackie Robinson as the first black Major League Baseball player; Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall, the first black players in the NFL; Jason Collins as the first openly gay player in the NBA; and Brittany Griner, the first openly lesbian player of the WNBA, Michael Sam continues the tradition of breaking ground for the acceptance of diversity in sports as well as the embracing of affectional diversity in our society.


How might it affect the work sports counselors do?

Tinsley: It does not just affect the work that sports counselors do but all professional counselors.  The athlete population has not always been considered a specific and diverse cultural group, which means the training for this population has been challenged, lacking or deficient. However, by extending the principles of multicultural counseling (i.e., self-awareness, worldview knowledge, culturally appropriate skills, techniques and interventions and the ability to develop a cross-cultural therapeutic relationship) to include the athlete population, professional counselors may be in a better position to receive formalized instruction beyond the basic counselor preparation.  Additionally, counselors may also be in a better position to respond to the developmental needs of the athlete population, including the diversity within the athlete culture, as well as enhance their skills and services that they provide. Furthermore, this provides a further rationale of the importance of integrating a social justice perspective in our work as counselors.


What are your thoughts, from a counseling perspective?

Tinsley: Although Michael Sam had already come out to himself and to his teammates at the University of Missouri, I think it is great that he had the courage and is proud enough, as well as strong enough emotionally, to come out as gay in the media networks. From a counseling perspective, we know that the consequences of identity confusion and internalized homophobia may include low self-esteem, self-hatred, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Additionally, we know from research and the literature that the coming-out process happens when individuals who identify as gay or lesbian come to accept being gay or lesbian as an important aspect of their [multiple] identity. Based on Michael Sam coming out to the media, in addition to himself and his college teammates, one could surmise that he has transitioned to identity synthesis.

However, from a counseling perspective, I do get concerned [about] the prejudice, oppression and/or discrimination Michael Sam may face based on being an African American gay man in a high-profile sport. Athletes as a whole have to face prejudice and have been a group that has been oppressed and discriminated against. And within the athlete culture, individuals will also face heterosexism, sexism and racism — to name a few that Michael Sam will not be immune from.

Crethar: I see the brave, pioneering and important step that Michael Sam has taken in coming out as … key to highlighting an issue of the need to continue battling for equitable treatment of all people in our society. Sam’s announcement comes at a time when views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage have been undergoing huge changes of their own. In the past decade, 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have allowed same-sex marriage, including seven in 2013 alone. For the first time last year, a majority of Americans (51 percent) said they favored same-sex marriage, according to a Pew survey. As counseling professionals, we need to understand that life contexts are key variables in the ethical treatment of all those we serve. It is therefore imperative that all counselors stand for equitable access to rights and privileges of people of all affectional orientations.


What positives and what negatives might come out of this announcement, for society and for Michael Sam?

Tinsley: The positives that have come out from this announcement is the identification of individuals and groups who exhibit genuine, nonjudgmental and empathic approaches and behaviors. Additional positives include an outpouring of the ethic of love and acceptance of Michael Sam as a person from both heterosexual individuals and individuals who identify as gay and lesbian.

As stated above, the negative that may come out, and has already come out, is the negative messages, prejudice, oppression and discrimination from a portion of our homophobic society.

Crethar: When [college football’s] Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year Michael Sam made the public announcement that he is gay, it was met with immediate and positive response that was nearly universal. Numerous teammates from the University of Missouri, leadership within his university, a number of NFL players and the head of the NFL Players Association all shared public support of Sam’s choice to come out, as well as emphasized his welcome amongst NFL players. The only real exception to the warm response came from anonymous coaches, scouts and general managers. Sam’s case is a clear reminder that despite rapidly advancing cultural acceptance of diversity in affectional orientation, workplace bigotry continues to endure. This highlights the need for a federal employment nondiscrimination act to be passed. A large majority of Americans believe lesbians and gays face between “some” and “a lot” of discrimination in the workplace (Pew Research Center).

Michael Sam’s choice to enter the draft openly gay does break ground by directly and publicly confronting and highlighting the ongoing existence of workplace discrimination for people of varying affectional orientation. With the rapid advance of marriage equality in the U.S. and around the globe, it isn’t shocking that a segment of our society continues to focus on how Sam’s orientation will purportedly disturb “the heartbeat of the locker room,” cause “distractions” for his team and even may not be “manly enough” for a football player. Sam’s strong and effective play on the football field and with his team who had known of his orientation for a year negate these opinions.



Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline