You might remember my post about Felix Treitler’s new spin on therapy a few weeks ago.
If not, here’s a little refresher course: Felix Treitler is a Boston-based Certified Tennis Professional and Licensed Therapist who has combined his love of physical activity and helping others to create an interesting kind of therapy.
This week, I was able to email with Treitler about this new kind of “sports therapy” (for which I learned there is a more appropriate name), how he came to combine his two passions to provide this therapy to clients, and the positive responses he’s received from both clients and mental health professionals thus far.
Alicia Sparks: Before we dive into anything else, why don’t you explain the kind of therapy you’re offering? And do you use an “official” name for it?
Felix Treitler: More accurately, it might be called something like “Activity Therapy” because it involves more than just sports. It works with games like chess, or activities like acting, improvising, playing music, or hiking, or others. The idea is that someone is more likely to engage in “therapy” if it is connected to something else they enjoy or are good at. Also, more active things tend to make people feel better as has been proven by many studies involving the mental health benefits of exercise. One of the problems with Therapy up until this point is that many people drop out. Also, it has often been described as a painful and difficult experience. I don’t believe it has to be. On the contrary, it can be quite enjoyable.
Sparks: A tennis professional and a therapist – what prompted you to finally merge those two very different careers and form the service you’re offering now?
Treitler: I have been a Certified Tennis Professional for over 25 years, and a Licensed Therapist as well. Up until now, I have done those jobs separately. I finally decided that it was time to combine them into one job as there are so many similarities between the two. As I explained, tennis is one activity that I know a lot about, but I do lots of other activities as well. I don’t want to exclude people who don’t play tennis.
Sparks: Before yourself, had you ever heard of – or witnessed – another mental health professional using this sports therapy technique?
Treitler: Not really. I’ve seen some variations of it, but not exactly what I have in mind. Again, using exercise as an “anti-depressant” isn’t a new concept, so I’m just adding onto that idea. Endorphins and serotonin levels are increased during all kinds of activities, so it is a natural to merge activity with other aspects of therapy, like talking and changing thought patterns.
Sparks: You started your practice two years ago, correct? What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since then?
Treitler: The biggest challenge I’ve faced is simply getting the word out and explaining to people what it is all about. It is a new way of approaching Therapy, so most people haven’t heard of it and may find it takes some time to get used to. My website is almost finished and it will explain the process in detail. I’m also choosing to do interviews and get articles printed about it so people can understand it better.
Sparks: And, what has been the most rewarding experience of introducing your area to this kind of therapy?
Treitler: The most rewarding experience has been the positive response by clients and professionals to the idea of this kind of Therapy. Because it is such a sensible idea, everyone has supported it and even has asked how they could help promote it. Clients tend to love it because it is new, fun, and very effective. My mission in life all along has been to help people with a variety of problems, and now I found a way to do it that I enjoy as well. This makes it more likely that I will be able to do it for a very long time.
Sparks: What are some of the reactions you’ve gotten from other mental health professionals when they learn about what you’re doing with sports and therapy?
Treitler: Most of the reactions have been extremely positive. I am beginning to collaborate with other professionals and organizations who are doing things that are related. I can envision forming a bigger organization that specializes in “Activity Therapy” so it can reach more people and so I don’t have to feel “isolated” in a private practice.
Sparks: How would you respond to someone who said, “You know, Felix, I’m really good at talking, but I am no good on the tennis court.”
Treitler: Well, fortunately, I practice more traditional forms of Therapy as well, so they wouldn’t have to go far! Secondly, I might ask them what activity they prefer to tennis, since there are so many other possibilities.
Sparks: The emotions you’re able to display during the game – “the joy and frustration at winning or losing” you’ve mentioned before – do you feel those human responses help your clients better connect with you?
Treitler: Yes I do. I was never a big fan of hierarchical divisions between client and therapist. This type of treatment breaks that down and allows the therapist to be more of himself. For example, during a recent Tennis Therapy session, I became frustrated when I wasn’t playing well and my client could see that on the court. A therapist doesn’t have to be “emotionless”, on the court or off. He also saw me pull it together and raise the level of my game later in the match, so I was able to model “anger management” and an ability to control my frustration and negativity.
Sparks: For children, how important do you feel it is to have sports programs available in the schools and communities? Why?
Treitler: I think it is very important. For example, I work in a unique program that blends literacy with tennis for middle-schoolers. It is extremely effective and has been shown to not only keep kids off the streets, but to get them into better high schools and perform better in school. I have always benefited from sports programs growing up in New York City and in New Jersey. It helped me get through some very difficult times, including my parents divorce.
Sparks: Thanks so much for your time, Felix – I wish you the best of luck with your practice!
Treitler: Thank you so much for expressing an interest in this new form of Therapy. This is exactly the kind of exposure that will be so helpful in getting the word out to as many people as possible. I am open to people contacting me through my email, [email protected] or by phone at (781) 888-4067.