Aoife Scally – Psychology Helps Me Treat the Whole Person
Alumni of Psychology, Coaching and PE
Aoife Scally saw the value of psychology first hand for 10 years.
ACL rehabilitation typically lasts nine months. But after six months you begin the return-to-play phase. That’s when you start planting your foot and torquing your knee to change direction sharply. It’s a slow process where you build from gradual turns by running in circles to making sharper cuts with your foot planted away from your body.
It’s an unusual time for an athlete. There is excitement at playing sports again after being out for such a long time. There’s also trepidation with the potential for reinjury. After your collapses beneath you once, it’s hard to immediately trust it and go back to putting your weight through it.
Although wider society typically doesn’t think of sports injuries as traumatic, there can be a lasting trauma that comes with an injury as severe as an ACL tear.
Especially when you consider the impact of surgery and the 9+ months away from your regular routine.
Aoife watched many of her patients go through this torment during her first 10 years as a qualified physical therapist. That led her to Portobello’s BSc (Hons) Sports Psychology, Coaching & PE.
“A lot of them start to go backwards with [their progress during the return-to-play phase]. They start to get this pain or they say it’s not feeling great. A lot of the time I kind of felt like it was a psychological thing. I was interested in doing something to fill that gap.”
Living in the country and working from, Aoife has a purpose-built garage that serves as her clinic. She primarily supports GAA players. Estimating that 80-90% of her clients are involved with the GAA, severe injuries such as cruciate ligament tears take up most of her time.
“That’s why I initially started looking at the sports psychology side of things. I just felt I wanted something more.”
“[The course has made me] individualize people a lot more. You would always think that encouraging people is the best thing and that works for everyone, but some people hate that then as well. You wouldn’t even realize that. It’s made me take stock that every single person is different. You have to treat them that way as well.”
Since starting her degree, Aoife has treated her patients with greater care for their mental health. “There are simple things. Your mindfulness and your goal-setting. Teaching them simple steps and techniques if they feel anxious about an injury or if they’re a bit down over it.”
“You’re treating the whole person instead of just the injury.”
As a Gaelic Football player herself, Aoife could empathize with her patients. She also has a young family and understands the importance of engaging young people instead of just shouting at them, something that is prevalent in GAA circles.
Going back to college with a young family was always going to pose different challenges. Aoife initially signed up for the first year of a part time course before quickly realizing that she already knew everything she was being taught in year one. Her decade working as a physical therapist meant that she could advance to year two of a full-time course.
She called the head of the department, Dr. Susan Giblin, and asked if she could move forward into year two. Dr. Giblin obliged and she, along with her team of lecturers, quickly became a consistent resource for Aoife.
“I must say definitely in particular Susan is amazing. Any time you email her or if there’s an issue or a problem she’s just so good. She’s always straight back to you. Nothing is ever an issue for her. She’s just extremely, extremely helpful.
I couldn’t actually say enough about her. Even small things where you’re thinking should I email her about this or should I email someone else, she’ll always do her best to help you even if it’s not her area to deal with as such. I found her brilliant.
All the lecturers I had were fantastic. I really couldn’t say enough about them. Emma was just amazing from the start. Really, really helpful. Outside of being helpful I found her lectures were just really, really good for the information she passed on, I don’t think you’d find better.”
And it wasn’t just the information and education about psychology that Aoife appreciated:
“It was a very positive experience for me. The people were just really, really helpful. They’re dealing with a lot of students and sometimes you feel like you’re asking a stupid question but you were never made feel like that.
Susan knew I had small kids, she was always asking ‘Are you okay? Do you need help with anything? Are you managing okay?’ She didn’t have to do that. A lot of the lecturers were the same. They were just really nice you know.”
Having had the opportunity to skip first year in Portobello’s psychology course, Aoife still has a hunger left for one more year of education. She plans to complete a one-year Masters in General Psychology.
“I want to make sure that from an education point of view this time I really get it right. Portobello for the sports psych and the general psychology masters means you’re well-covered.”