For kids with PTSD, healing is happening in an unexpected place — a football field.

On a football field in Boston, several kids gather for an unlikely purpose: supporting each other in group therapy.

At the mention of group therapy, it’s easy to imagine it taking place across a seated circle in a quiet room. But this group therapy is no ordinary mental health program — it involves sprinting, catching footballs, and learning to run defense.

In fact, at first glance, a session might look like any other practice time for young athletes because just like any football team, they run drills, develop strategy, and work on throwing a perfect spiral.


But in these sessions, their coaches aren’t just coaches — they’re therapists. And the teams are made up of kids who have experienced child abuse, incarceration, PTSD, or other challenges.

A Doc Wayne practice session. Photo by Doc Wayne.

For struggling kids like these, traditional talk therapy — which involves a stranger’s office and opening up about issues that are difficult to discuss — often feels too intimidating.

“Many kids don’t want to talk about their issues or don’t really know how to talk about their issues,” explains David Cohen, CEO of the nonprofit Doc Wayne. “They certainly, in many cases, don’t want to sit down at a desk or in a room and talk to a clinician.”

Unfortunately, this is part of the reason why so many kids don’t get the mental health support they need. Of the 1 in 5 kids under the age of 19 who experience mental illness, only an estimated 20-25% are receiving mental health treatment.

That’s why, in order to truly help children, sometimes you need to meet them where they feel comfortable — even if it’s on a football field.

Susan Wayne, who has worked for decades with low-income youth, knows this firsthand. In fact, that’s why she founded Doc Wayne in 2002.

A coach and participant. Photo by Doc Wayne.

She had seen many young people struggle well into adulthood due to lack of proper treatment for their mental illnesses. She also knew how difficult it is to engage youth who don’t thrive in traditional talk therapy.  

But it wasn’t until the death of her brother, Dr. Eli Wayne, a pediatric surgeon and sports enthusiast, that she came up with the idea of a nonprofit named in his honor that would help these kids by combining both of his passions — health and sports.

Research shows that team sports can reduce symptoms of depression and boost kids’ ability to deal with stress, and also that young athletes also tend to have higher levels of confidence and mental wellness.

And that’s how Doc Wayne’s programs, which fuse athletics and mental health care, came to be developed.

One such program is a sports-based group therapy called Chalk Talk.

Here’s how it works: Say a kid gets frustrated after missing a shot in basketball. Instead of letting them get excessively angry or bottle up that frustration with no solution, their coach is there to help them figure out how to channel anger in a healthy way, such as learning from this mistake in preparation for the next drill.

Photo by Tamarcus Brown/Unsplash.

Rather than using clinical terms that kids can’t relate to, like “emotion regulation,” the coach uses coaching language like “step to your strengths.” While the terminology is different, the therapeutic concept behind it is exactly the same, allowing the children to engage in a way that they might not otherwise.

In other words, sports allow the kids to deal with their issues — such anger or impulsivity — without feeling like they’re being forced to.

And that’s why research on this kind of sports-based therapy shows that it is just as effective in supporting mental health as traditional psychotherapy. Participants are learning to deal with their issues using the the same strategies they’d develop through traditional therapy.

Chalk Talk also helps build trust with kids who have experienced repetitive or ongoing trauma, like much of the youth at Doc Wayne. They do this by playing team sports such as soccer, flag football, basketball, and indoor rowing, where they can learn to support each other as teammates.

Photo by Doc Wayne.

This is reinforced when the kids circle up at the end of a session to give each other shoutouts — for instance, complimenting someone’s dribbling skills.

“Everything that we do is all about the team aspect,” says Cohen. “It’s all about learning skills in life that you’ll need to carry on so you can be a contributing member to your own community.”

He continues, “They have to learn how to show up and be present and ... respectful and have empathy for others.”

Today, Doc Wayne helps about 300 children a week — and these kids are seeing a big difference in their lives.

According to research on the nonprofit, they're showing lower rates of aggression and an increased ability to integrate into their communities.

Not only that, but kids are more likely to stay in sports-based therapy because they actually enjoy it. The no-show rate among kids for traditional talk-based therapy sessions is around 40% but at Doc Wayne, it’s only around 20%, according to Cohen.

“Sometimes you’ll see kids actually loving therapy,” he adds, because at Doc Wayne, healing goes hand-in-hand with their favorite sport.

Photo by Doc Wayne.

Cohen remembers observing one boy who wasn’t interested in engaging with the group. For about 15 minutes, the boy sat on the sidelines while the other kids practiced drills with their coach. Then, for another 10 minutes, he threw a ball against a wall by himself. Finally, he quietly joined the group.

He was allowed to do so on his own terms, and Cohen says that’s what helped him discover his own willingness to engage.

For many of the kids who come to Doc Wayne for help, simply having a supportive adult to depend on is a luxury.

That’s why this organization is so helpful: It helps give these kids a reliable support system so that they can begin to trust others to help them through tough times.

“Their lives … have been disrupted in so many ways,” says Cohen. “[So] we make sure that we’re there, that we earn the trust … week in and week out.”

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

The Holderness family has made quite a name for themselves creating fun parody songs, but they may have just outdone themselves. As the world awaits the premiere of the filmed version Hamilton's original staged production on Disney +, the Holdernesses have released a "Hamilton Mask-up Parody Medley" that perfectly captures inane mask-wearing debates in the musical mastery of Hamilton.

As of now, it's only been up for six hours and has already been shared more than 35,000 times. Hamilton fans love it, recognizing familiar tunes such as "Aaron Burr, Sir," "My Shot," and "You'll Be Back." But even people who have never seen or heard Hamilton before will appreciate the cultural commentary on mask-wearing—an issue that has the U.S. struggling as it attempts to manage a pandemic in a highly individualistic society. As the video points out, public health isn't a partisan thing, and mask-wearing to protect others certainly shouldn't be something that angers people.

Check it out:

Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less