Nairobi News


Meet the brains behind online therapy sessions for athletes

Covid-19 has changed how most people and organizations with a lot of work now being done from home. The sports industry has also changed with athletes mostly working out from through online platforms like Zoom.

Two psychologists have also embraced the change and are now offering free therapy sessions for athletes.

Rowena Tirop and Kanyali Ilako, who work under the umbrella of Brain Frees Consultancies, say the main reason they are offering free therapy sessions to athletes is because they realized athletes are going through difficult times at the moment and their mental health has been ignored for a while even before the pandemic.

The therapy sessions will kick off on Monday 25th June and will end on Friday 5th June. They will be conducted via phone calls, Whatsapp and Zoom.

Nairobi News caught up with the duo recently.

In a nutshell, who are you?

Rowena Tirop: We are a partnership of two ladies working under one umbrella, Brain Frees Consultancies. I have a background in competitive swimming, hockey and football. I have a degree in Psychology and Counselling and MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology. I have worked with a collegiate rugby Union in London and currently work with the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU)

Kanyali Ilako: I have an MSc in Sports and Performance Psychology and my background is in competitive swimming. I have worked with Olympic swimmers in Finland, a league one football team in Greece, at the International Tennis Federation (ITA) East Africa training center in Kenya and I’m also an intellectual impairment classifier with the International Paralympic committee (IPC).

How did you get into this profession?

Kanyali Ilako: Having been a competitive swimmer and then coach, I realized that athletes and coaches get support nutritionally, physically through Strength and Conditioning training but there was still a gap in the mental health aspect and I have always been passionate about the importance and de-stigmatization of mental health.

Rowena Tirop: I love always loved sports. My intrigue rose from seeing athletes injured and the process of getting them back to playing. Following this I noticed the main priorities were physical and nutritional health and the mental health was rarely focused on. Watching Mike Friday’s coaching sessions, and the former Kenya Sevens team playing sealed it for me and I decided to combine the two things I enjoy, psychology and sport.

How has the experience been so far?

Kanyali Ilako: The experience has been great so far people are intrigued and interested and surprisingly not shy to reach out. Having worked with different organizations, clubs and individuals and recently appearing on different media platforms addressing this in the last 3 years there is growth and appreciation for this service.

Kanyali Ilako. PHOTO | COURTESY

What is your take on the uptake of such a professional service you are offering among Kenyan athletes?

Rowena Tirop: It is very important. There is no health without mental health, to break through your performance you have to break through your psychology.

Is there a demand for the same?

Kanyali Ilako: Yes, now more than ever. COVID-19 has altered all our lives and the changes that have come about, as a result, have led to an increase in sedentary behaviors and in turn it has contributed to an increase in mental ailments such as anxiety, frustration, irritability and depressive moods. Athletes are facing career disruptions, as experienced with injuries or retirement, and are led to training in less effective environments without their coaches and teams.

Any challenges?

Rowena Tirop: It is still a very new thing here, with the two of us being the only ones currently practicing it in Kenya. However, there has been significant progress in the field of Psychology and Psychiatry towards the destigmatization of mental disorders. We have to keep going.

What prompted you to start online therapy sessions?

Kanyali Ilako: It is a very difficult time for athletes and coaches and we wanted to reach as many people as we could.

Anything else you’d like to clarify?

Rowena Tirop: Yes. People confuse psychologists and psychiatrists a lot. We are psychologists, not psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they can prescribe medications and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment while psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioral interventions.