Dr. Lisa Post, PhD
Season 01 : Episode 04
Dr. Lisa Post is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, where she has served as Chief of Sports Medicine in Psychiatry for Stanford University’s Varsity Athletic program since 2000. She has also been Team Psychologist and mental health consultant for the San Francisco 49ers for the past 11 years. Dr. Post sat down with Erin and Kristin to discuss her own transitions and journey to becoming a psychologist, her interests in the treatment of high performing individuals and in stress management, and how athlete transition is a unique process for each individual.
Check back here for links to resources for athletes transitioning to their next challenge. Know of a good program we missed? Please let us know!
[3:15] Dr. Post grew up in Southern California, and getting to Princeton University as a freshman was a huge transition for her. She sought out therapy when she got there and had a bad experience, and never went back to therapy for many years. She decided to pursue studying psychology in graduate school because after she graduated from college she had a good experience with a psychologist.
[4:30] More and more, Dr. Post sees undergraduate students who think they have to have everything figured out. The population she works with is very goal-oriented, perfectionists, and when they are suddenly done with their sport, they become very concerned about what comes next. They have trouble with the transition.
[5:20] Dr. Post got her PhD wanting to be just a regular psychologist. She got bad grades for two years during her undergrad at Princeton because of the fact that she was depressed, so she ended up going to a professional school to get her PhD. Because she is very pragmatic, she did her dissertation on a more empirical form of psychology, more specifically about how beliefs on alcohol correlate to how much alcohol someone consumes. How thoughts relate to behavior. She also looked at addiction.
[7:30] How Dr. Post got to Stanford- she was looking around for internships, and there was one available at an in-patient alcohol and addiction treatment center at Stanford. She was picking between Wells Fargo bank doing an organizational development program and the Stanford position in 1987. After that position she started getting opportunities. Roy King offered her a part time job in a clinic for personality disorder clients, which was a new thing back then. She trained with a psychologist at Stanford who started a program in dialectical behavior, and then went on to the interpersonal problems clinic. She ran that clinic for a long time, about 20 years. She was exposed to a lot of different types of treatments and training.
[10:30] How Dr. Post started working for Stanford Athletics. The athletics department was looking for someone to help with their student athletes. Even though Dr. Post didn’t have any background in athletes, but she was asked to work with them. She ran a clinic on her own, and slowly the program began to expand to a sports performance psychologist, a sports medicine program, interns, and other professionals in the field.
[13:15] Athletes can come to her department to talk about sports performance, anxiety, depressive episodes. A lot of schools in the US now offer programs like this. The resources that Stanford students get are above and beyond, and they have specialists that provide lots of support for the student athletes.
[16:45] Dr. Post transitioned from working with non-athletes to mostly exclusively athletes. She has also been working with the San Franciso 49ers for many years. She initially turned down the position of working with the 49ers, but ended up agreeing to do it. She loves working with the 49ers.
[18:00] Does Dr. Post see anything different in the athletes that she doesn’t see in the general population? In college students, she sees every type of problem that you could ask for in that population. Furthermore, she sees athletes as having some unique aspects that she doesn’t see in the general population. For example, just being someone who is physically fit is protective- exercising in general reduces your vulnerability to negative mood states- there is a lot of research on that. That said, things are always a balance, and exercise can be a pro and a con. If you are on a team where the culture is supportive of balance versus a team with unhealthy behavioral culture, it can be a positive or negative thing.
[20:20] The athlete identity- Dr. post talks about how there are different intervention approaches with athletes. For examples, when athletes are injured her department is able to do an intervention a lot more directly than otherwise. They got a grant from the NCAA to do a study in injured athletes with Norah Simpson, studying athlete identity in injured athletes. Because injury is a very difficult time for athletes, where if you take the sport away from an athlete it’s a difficult time, they feel isolated, etc. So, in the intervention, they talk about how the athlete identity has helped the athlete a lot. At school, being an athlete gives students community and status, but if you end the sport and are injured, it can be a very difficult thing.
[23:45] On how Dr. Post approaches student-athletes on a case by case basis, and gets them to think about who they are, how the athlete identity can be helpful or not, how they fit into their team. She discusses how she often sees student athletes who are having trouble on their team, and asks them how their role as an athlete fits into their life. They discuss values (for example only caring about performance and how that affects them), recognizing those and understanding them, and then trying to find balance and being a bit more realistic.
[26:00] Dr. Post talks about how she works with student-athletes on identifying their own emotions, and how that can affect their performance. How should I be thinking and behaving to accomplish my goals?
[28:30] How social media creates a lot of pressure for student-athletes. She works with athletes to be able to put the various pressures of being a student-athlete into perspective. Dr. Post thinks there is a lot more pressure on athletes these days with the rise of social media. She discusses how she is working with professional athletes who need to brand themselves, and they feel that it takes them out of the present moment- they are always thinking about what’s next.
[32:15] Dr. Post on how transitioning from athletics is a long process, and the experience of being an athlete affects their future. Dr. Post talks about how there is very little funding in athletics in general, and there is a huge opportunity cost to train for one’s sport. Those athletes spend their 20s committing themselves to their sport while others at their same age are developing their careers during that time. Retired athletes also talk to her often about how they never feel the same high that they did as an athlete in anything else they try afterwards.
[35:15] Erin talks about how retiring from sport can be like being in a bad relationship- where you go back and forth from being ready to be done, and back to wanting to keep going. Then they discuss how retired athletes have trouble going out into the job market because the skills they have spent years honing do not seem applicable to job openings.
[36:30] Does Dr. Post have any advice for athletes leaving their sport? She says that the most important thing is to assess the pros and cons of the job seeking process, teach them problem solving skills (such as what to do when an HR department sends a resume back), and then assessing whether there are problematic thoughts that get in the way of being successful in the job seeking process, how to keep going in the face of some adversity. She discusses the importance of using the skills you learned as an athlete in your life after leaving your sport.
[37:30] Dr. Post emphasizes the importance of using your network in the job seeking process.
[38:20] Erin talks about how she feels like therapists or psychologists are like her coaches in this new phase of her life. She says it’s nice to have a “coach” who helps you look at things practically and see things emotionally and logically.
[39:15] Dr. Post talks about how emotions are what generate behavior, and that it’s not possible to not experience any emotions. Is there a tiger outside your door? Probably not. So, try to think harder about why you are scared or anxious.
[40:30] Dr. Post discusses a study that she was a co-author on, and it was looking at the psychological problems experienced by adults who are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and are put on exercise restriction. Many of the adults in this study were previously all athletes, and the researchers were looking at how athlete identity was affected in these individuals who had to stop exercising.
[43:30] Dr. Post and Kristin discuss the idea of exercise addiction, and how it relates to other disorders, such as eating disorders and other addictions.
[45:00] Dr. Post discusses the concept of having interventions in athletic departments for student athletes preparing for transition from sport. She talks about how time is one of the great restrictions for any programming. She thinks brochures or other ways to get basic info out to student athletes. One of the main findings from the injured athlete study was social support is helpful. Small groups were helpful to those athletes, because they felt less alone. Maybe a few mandatory visits would be helpful, but ultimately everything costs money, so there’s a lot that we are up against in getting resources to athletes.
[47:30] How would it be best to get athlete transition information to the student athletes? Dr. Post thinks that it may be effective to get other athletes deliver the information to athletes.
[49:45 Dr. Post talks about a former athlete that she has worked with who talks a lot about opportunity cost. They invested over a year in studying for an important test and ended up doing really well. This person was able to persist in the pursuit of the goal, and ultimately got into good schools, and ultimately got a good job. She sees this mindset as the preparation that sport can give athletes.
51:30 Erin talks about being a novice again. You have to have persistence to excel at any sport, and to use the ability to persist in sport to translate to being a novice again in life. Identify your “board of directors”: who is your shoulder to cry on, your cheerleader, etc. to help you get to your next goal.
54:00 How to have a meaningful life. Dr. Post doesn’t tell us how to do it, but gives great insight on how to set yourself up to make it happen.