Social Work alum works with elite athletes on their mental health
When United States gymnast Simone Biles recently dropped out of competitions at the Olympic Games in Tokyo to focus on her mental health, it left a lot of people surprised. How could someone who worked so hard to have a shot at Olympic gold suddenly withdraw from her events?
The move did not surprise UNE alum Kim Plourde, MSW, ’05, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Plourde works for Thriveworks, a counseling, psychology, and psychiatry company with more than 300 clinics nationwide. She has had a career spanning more than three decades working with elite athletes.
“Simone Biles set the tone,” Plourde stated. “That was a pretty bold move on her part and she is to be commended. You could see it; she wasn't getting enough breath. She could not think and perform. That was too much for her and she made the right choice for her safety. When people say things like ‘She should have gone through with it,’ she could have really hurt herself.”
Plourde is part of the United States Olympic and Paralympic mental health registry and a member of the Alliance of Social Workers in Sport (ASWIS).
“We connect, get together, and talk about how social workers can support athletes at all levels, from elementary age all the way up to professional and the Olympics,” she explained.
By stepping away from competition, Biles made headlines across the globe. Plourde was contacted by a reporter from the Associated Press who was writing a story on athletes and mental health. The article appeared in news outlets across the country.
“Being contacted and asked specifically about how mental health impacts athletes humbled me,” she said. “I honor and respect every opportunity that I have to talk to people about how athletes are affected, because it is misunderstood. I think it is important to bring awareness to the topic.”
Plourde knows the pressures athletes put on themselves to perform well and the pressures others put on them, from coaches to corporate sponsors. The pandemic has added a new level to that pressure.
“In the past year, some athletes have had to stay together to do their sport,” she commented. “So, they get isolated from their family and friends, all while people they know are dealing with life-threatening consequences from COVID-19.”
Plourde is an athlete herself, having played basketball and softball in college and professional women’s football with the Maine Freeze.
For student athletes juggling sports, school work, and part-time work, Plourde says time management is key to maintaining good mental health.
“They have to take some time during the week where they are refreshing themselves and renewing themselves,” she said. “For any athlete feeling stressed, the simple thing to do is to just step back from your event and breathe. When we get stressed out, the first thing that goes is our breathing. The most important thing to do is just slow down and breathe so that you can think of what you need to do.”
Plourde says her time spent in UNE’s Master of Social Work program prepared her well for the career path she chose.
“The foundation of my professional work as an LCSW was established at UNE,” she explained. “I was prepared to effectively understand myself in order to effect positive change in the lives of people seeking help and support. My educational experience and field placement experience supported practical integrated learning in social justice, human relationships, dignity, and worth of each individual. I continue to reflect and learn from my experience at UNE.”