Battling addiction and ready for treatment?
Seeking Counseling for Exercise Addiction
Regular exercise is essential to maintaining overall physical and mental health, but too much of a good thing can be very destructive. For exercise addicts, their brain fails to function without feel-good chemicals, endorphins, and dopamine caused by healthy exercise.
Counseling is the best treatment for exercise addiction, but not all forms of therapy work for everyone. Learn the different types of treatment best suited to address exercise addiction, how they work, and how they can help you or a loved one.
How Does Counseling Help Treat Exercise Addiction?
Because exercise addiction is a behavioral addiction, counseling is often the best way to address addictive behaviors that lead to compulsive exercise. Counseling helps by showing the addict how to identify thought patterns or beliefs that lead to addictive behaviors.
Whether through one-on-one or group sessions, counseling can help addicts feel less alienated and shameful about their addiction. Counseling can also help motivate addicts to pursue recovery and see their addiction from a new perspective.
Each therapy type has its strengths and weaknesses, so if one type doesn’t work for you, another type might be better suited to your needs.
Benefits of Exercise Addiction Counseling
Some people view behavioral addictions like exercise addiction as less serious than substance abuse addictions, leading many to attempt treating their exercise addiction on their own. Unfortunately, treating your addiction alone seldom works.
By working with a professional healthcare provider and committing to exercise addiction counseling, you can avoid the common pitfalls of recovery and learn strategies to prevent relapse.
Benefits of exercise addiction counseling include:
- Understanding the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
- Improved relationships with loved ones, coworkers, and classmates
- Develop strategies to process intense or difficult emotions
- Improved body image, body dysmorphia, and self-esteem
- Treatment of co-occurring mental health conditions or eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia
- Improved coping skills to combat withdrawal symptoms and urges
- Better overall quality of life
Types of Counseling for Exercise Addiction Treatment
Several types of counseling have proven effective in the treatment of exercise addiction. Each type of therapy has its method, whether it’s focusing on thought patterns and false beliefs or bolstering motivation and handling relationship conflicts.
If you’re not sure what type of therapy would work best for you, ask your doctor what they would recommend. Depending on co-occurring disorders, certain counseling types may work better for you.
Motivational Interviewing (MI)
Motivational interviewing is a 1–2 session framework designed to help exercise addicts who resist change feel more motivated to improve their situation and lifestyle. The main idea behind MI is to evoke motivation to enter recovery from exercise addiction, not force it.
After all, forcing an exercise addict to stop over-exercising before they’re ready often fails. MI instead uses empathy to show addicts that they are in full control of whether or not they change and how their quality of life will improve if they do.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Based originally on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy differs in its focus on learning to regulate emotions, practice mindfulness, and change behavior rather than thoughts.
For exercise addicts who struggle to change their behavior around physical activity, DBT helps them better regulate the extreme emotions that lead to addictive behaviors.
DBT encourages exercise addiction patients to let go of the past and focus more on the present through one-on-one therapy, group sessions, and skills training.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the most commonly used form of psychotherapy and has helped many patients with excessive exercise and dependence.
CBT typically occurs in one-on-one sessions where a mental health professional helps the addict identify thoughts or false beliefs that lead to addictive behaviors. For example, a patient may be obsessed with weight loss because they believe they are unhealthy despite a clear bill of health.
Once these negative thought patterns or beliefs are identified, the therapist helps patients replace them with more productive thoughts. Patients will also learn to develop coping strategies to use during high stress to make better choices.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
Rational emotive behavior therapy is a type of CBT that focuses on managing irrational thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. While REBT overlaps with CBT in many areas, it differs in handling extreme emotions and encourages addicts to find happiness, even in unwanted circumstances.
A hallmark of REBT is Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA), which teaches addicts to unconditionally accept themselves as the imperfect humans they are, regardless of whether they do well or poorly or are loved or hated by others.
Exercise addicts struggling with extreme self-critical thoughts or having problems regulating strong feelings of anger or sadness may find relief with REBT.
4 Tips for Finding the Right Exercise Addiction Counselor
Finding an exercise addiction counselor isn’t a perfect science, but remember a few things to ensure you find a mental healthcare provider that best suits your needs.
1. Find Someone You’re Comfortable With
When it comes to counseling, working with a therapist you don’t feel comfortable with can affect the mental health benefits you receive. You may feel unsafe talking about certain topics or vulnerable if you don’t get along with your therapist.
Finding a therapist you trust and get along with will make you more likely to discuss the more sensitive or difficult topics you can’t discuss with family members. Don’t hesitate to try another therapist if you feel uncomfortable with the person you see.
2. Appointment Times That Fit Your Schedule
We all have busy lives, so finding appointment times that don’t conflict with daily life is important. If your counseling appointments are difficult to work around your schedule, you’ll be more likely to cancel or even drop them entirely over time.
Ask the counselor or the scheduler what appointment times are available. Some offices also offer virtual appointment options. You can ask if your office provides virtual appointments if in-person ones are during inconvenient times.
3. Know Your Insurance and Budget
Money is often a huge barrier to treatment for many people. Cost can dictate what counselors you can see and how frequently. However, many offices and counselors will try to work with patients to provide care.
If you have insurance, determine your co-pays and deductibles, so you know what to expect when paying for your session. If you don’t have insurance, you can ask the office what lower-cost or community-based options are available.
4. Expect to Try a Few Therapists
Counseling can be a very vulnerable, sometimes uncomfortable experience. A therapist will ask personal questions and start discussions about sensitive topics you may not have even allowed yourself to think about.
Finding someone you click with who understands your style of working through issues is important. That being said, be prepared to try a few different counselors to find someone who complements the way you think and process issues. Trying several therapists is totally normal.
Additional Resources for Treating Exercise Addiction
Aside from counseling, support groups, and online communities are great additional treatment options to complement counseling for exercise addiction. There are also many small communities on social media sites you can use to connect with like-minded people in recovery from exercise addiction.
Finding a Counselor for Exercise Addiction
If you or a loved one has the warning signs of exercise addiction and are ready to enter counseling, counselors are ready to help. Inpatient treatment for exercise addiction is rare; most addicts find great results with consistent therapy and support from loved ones.
Talk with your doctor about the negative consequences of your exercise routine and see what treatment options might be best. If you don’t have a doctor or don’t know where to start, try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-877-726-4727 (HELP) to see what treatment options are in your area.