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We All Go To The Same Therapist: Therapeutic Effects of Weightlifting
Matt Foreman
February 5 2014

Therapy is really popular these days, have you noticed that? People spend a lot of time and money going to psychiatrists and counselors. They’ve got some mental/emotional/personality issues they need to get straightened out, so they seek professional help.

I’ve never gone to therapy. I don’t need to, because I have absolutely no problems. Unless you count overwhelming charm and physical magnetism as problems, which I don’t. If those things are bad, then somebody better get me a doctor…fast.

Anyway, back to the therapy business. It’s a growth industry, that’s for sure. People must be getting more screwed up as time goes on, because new shrinks are popping up like prairie dogs. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, by the way. I’ve known some people who were in therapy for years. And you know what? It seems to work. They were practically living their lives huddled in a corner and pissing themselves when strangers said hello, and some long-term psychiatric treatment led them to stability and happiness. Good on ya, as far as I’m concerned.

You know what I think? I think weightlifting is good therapy. When people have personal problems, becoming a weightlifter can help them.

I’m totally serious about this, by the way. Let me explain.

Olympic weightlifting is extremely complex and challenging. I think we all know that. Learning how to do the OLifts is probably one of the toughest things a person can try. It tests the limits of your physical and mental ability in a very unique way. There’s nothing quite like being an Olympic lifter. It’s very, very damn hard to do.

Different people bring different attitudes to the table when they decide to give it a try. Just like real life, you’ll see all kinds of personalities in this sport. OLifting can give all of them exactly what they need, in various ways. Here are a couple of examples:

Michelle the Frightened Gerbil: Michelle doesn’t have much faith in herself. She’s quiet, timid, and insecure. She’s a good person, but she doesn’t see herself as special or impressive. When she watches weightlifting, she’s in awe of how skillful it looks and the first thing that pops into her mind is, “I could never do that. I’m not good enough.” She probably thinks that about most other things in her life, actually.

Therapeutic Result of Weightlifting for Michelle: If somebody can actually convince Michelle to give OLifting a try, it’ll be tough for her but she’ll work very hard because she’s so terrified of failing. If you put Michelle with a good coach who knows how to teach and has a caring attitude, she’ll eventually figure out how to do the lifts. And do you know what will happen then? Michelle will see herself just a little differently than she used to. Don’t be surprised if she gets more outgoing and confident. Bingo, the treatment was a success.

Jeff the Arrogant Jerkoff: Just like Michelle, Jeff has a problem with his self-confidence. But it’s the opposite problem. Jeff has an overwhelming surplus of self-confidence. Jeff is full of himself. Jeff thinks he’s god’s gift to the world. When he sees weightlifting, he gets excited to try it because he thinks it’ll be one more way for him to show everybody how awesome he is. He expects to be great at it because…well, because he’s Jeff. If you’ve ever heard the song “Steve Polychronopolous” by Adam Sandler, you know what I’m talking about. That’s this guy.

Therapeutic Result of Weightlifting for Jeff: Hopefully, Jeff will be humbled when he starts lifting. If he’s a big strong guy, he might be able to lift more than most people in the gym right away despite his mutant, disgusting technique. But at some point, he’ll be exposed to other lifters who are much better than he is. I used to train with a 148 lb woman who could snatch 220 lbs, clean and jerk 275, and back squat 418. Most of the guys in the gym, at any bodyweight, couldn’t beat her head-to-head. Jeff needs to see lifters like this. Once Jeff has been forced to confront the fact that he’s not a living legend, hopefully he’ll make some adjustments to his ego. Bingo, the treatment was a success.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Is weightlifting guaranteed to fix everybody’s problems? Of course not. After a year of successful training, Michelle might still think she’s a piece of crap and Jeff might still think the sun rises and sets in his butthole. We’ve got no guarantees that weightlifting is going to solve everything.

But you can say the same thing about therapy. It might be the cure, and it might not.

Most of the people in therapy are there because they’ve got something inside they can’t handle. Low self-esteem, addiction urges, outbursts of anger, whatever. They can’t control these things, so they have to get help.

Having success in the Olympic lifts gives you a sense of control that can trickle into many other areas of your life. It was so freaking hard to learn the snatch, and you went through hell to do it. Once you’ve done it, a lot of other things seem a little easier.

To say it in a much simpler way, being a weightlifter forces you to believe in yourself. Once you start to believe in yourself, you become a stronger person. It’s a pretty basic equation.

What do you have to lose? Even if weightlifting doesn’t make you stop hating your mother, at least it will make your body look better. If your body looks better, people will probably be more attracted to you. That could lead to a bunch of meaningless physical relationships.

See? The positives are all over the place.
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February 5 2014
Therapy is a process of building a relationship with someone who has generally restricted many aspects of their lives due to fear. Once the relationship is built, therapy challenges people to try new behaviors (personally or interpersonally). These new behaviors often lead to enhanced emotional and cognitive wellbeing as well as improved relationships. As a therapist and weightlifter I must say you are correct. The tough part of therapy is helping people to consider trying something new such as weightlifting or asking for the help of a coach. One small change often has a ripple effect in peoples lives for the better. Good article.
February 12 2014
I love this! It´s really all about being the master of your own mind. Learning weightlifting is difficult as hell and gives you all kind of self doubt, overcoming that makes you stronger, not only physically but mentally.
July 21 2014
So, i would disagree with one point perhaps. Id say im proficient at the lifts, not awesome, but i have them down enough to be fairly consistent and at least look like ive done it before a couple times.

I would assert that the snatch can have a highly destabilizing effect on ones mental well being.

An old timer once said "You know why they invented the clean and jerk? the snatch, thats why"

November 12 2014
As a beginner ( this year) in weightlifting I tell you therapy is right on the money. Going back to basics a thousand times and expecting to go through it a thousand times more?! thats humbling and theraputic for sure.
When it goes right and the lift is good...well there is NO better feeling in the world.
Win Win
John Mosby
April 27 2016
I have autism. I work with a therapist and I've been a master's weightlifter for 4.5 years.
My therapist still doesn't fully understand the value and effectiveness of weightlifting as therapy (for me), but my autistic friends get it straightaway.
Weightlifting is a minimum social interaction sport (for training at least).
The path to even attaining competence and consistency is very long, but that makes it maximum reward, if one has sufficient mental endurance (or the "right" neurology, in my case). (It is highly repetitive. There are only two things for you to learn (and each of them is a _bitch_)).
I don't understand why Olympic Weightlifting remains such an underground subculture in the U.S. I guess CrossFit is helping educate people about weightlifting.