Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

Exercising for Mental Health

By Garry Cooper

January/February 2006

Therapist Jane Cibel really makes her clients sweat. After a brief check-in, during which they report how their lives and therapy homework have gone in the past week, they get on her treadmill for five to eight minutes, and then hit the weight machines in her office for a full workout. Throughout their workout, she'll ask them the kinds of questions about their thoughts, feelings, and memories that other therapists ask clients.

For years, Cibel, who's certified as both a social worker and personal trainer, had been thinking about integrating exercise and therapy. Then four years ago, as the research continued to accumulate showing that exercise is as effective as therapy or meds for certain conditions, Cibel finally made the break with tradition. She set up her Washington, D.C., office with exercise equipment and told her clients to wear workout clothes to sessions. As word of her unique practice spread, her caseload shifted toward clients who are unhappy with their bodies, although she doesn't specifically treat body-dysmorphic or eating disorders. Underlying her clients' dissatisfaction with their bodies, she says, is usually depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, and those are the issues her distinctive approach primarily addresses.

Cibel believes that much of the benefit of exercise comes both from making an initial commitment to taking action and from an increasing…

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