February 20, 2024

L&C Student-Athletes Score New Resources for Mental Health

Lewis & Clark’s Mental Health Validation Program (MVP) brings counseling services, mental health workshops, student-athlete peer support groups, and more to the college’s student-athletes.

Orange circle with L&C athletics logo and MVP/Mental-Health Validation Program in black text. by Tara Elsa BA ’25

“Humans First, Athletes Second.” This catchphrase sums up the approach of the new Mental Health Validation Program (MVP) at Lewis & Clark.

“Our goal is to break the stigma surrounding mental health for our student-athletes by fostering a culture of holistic wellness,” says Gina Parisi, assistant athletic trainer.

In spring 2022, Parisi partnered with Gabby Beltran BA ’23, a psychology major and former student-athlete, to launch MVP. The program is designed to support L&C student-athletes and increase their awareness of mental health issues, particularly as they pertain to sports.

Gina smiling at the camera. She has long dark hair with bangs. Gina Parisi, assistant athletic trainerParisi notes that Lewis & Clark’s MVP is unique among the Division III schools of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); such programs are usually reserved for larger NCAA Division I schools. “Because of the importance of mental health at Lewis & Clark, I wanted to use what I have learned and offer it to the community,” she says.

An Injury Leads to Inspiration

While playing basketball at L&C, Beltran experienced a devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in her knee before starting MVP. Through the long recovery period, she says she had “an abundant amount of physical recovery resources but struggled to obtain mental recovery resources.”

What started as a conversation between Beltran and Parisi about the mental health struggles of student-athletes quickly became a collaborative effort to create a new program. They came up with MVP, which addresses student-athletes’ mental health concerns, provides resources, and offers a space to talk about health and wellness issues within the context of sports.

MVP Offerings

Since MVP’s launch two years ago, Beltran and Parisi have expanded the program by offering counseling services, mental health workshops, student-athlete peer support groups, injured athlete support groups, and educational tools for coaches and staff. So far, about one-third of L&C’s student-athletes have participated in MVP’s various offerings.

For academic year 2023–24, the program has added an internship position for Sierra Renham, a licensed social worker who is getting certified in sport-specific mental performance. According to Parisi, MVP hopes to continue to serve as an internship site for those gaining experience in mental sport performance coaching. In an effort to normalize seeking mental health care, the program relocated a counselor from the Student Counseling Center to be available to student-athletes weekly in Pamplin Sports Center. The program also hosts workshops, all of which are held in Pamplin, on topics such as sports nutrition, eating disorders in sports, and identity transitions within athletics.

Gabby smiling at the camera, wearing her L&C athletics gear. Gabby Beltran BA ’23“The idea behind MVP is to offer access to these mental health resources all in one place—Pamplin Sports Center,” says Beltran. “We want to collaborate with others across campus to offer mental health support resources in an effort to normalize help-seeking behavior around mental well-being,” Parisi adds.

The MVP program addresses a real and growing need for mental health services within the world of sports. “As we’ve seen in the news, student-athletes face inherent pressures and experiences within athletics that can really trigger some mental health problems,” Parisi says. To address these challenges, she says “collaboration and connection” are key.

Beltran adds, “In sports culture, we are told to ‘push through’ and be perfect. I’ve noticed that reminding myself I am a human before an athlete has really changed my perspective and helped me acknowledge my worth for more than just a body.”

Planning for the Future

Moving forward, Beltran and Parisi plan to collaborate with various on-campus offices to further develop the program and to provide additional workshops and resources to the L&C athletics community. MVP is also seeking student-athlete leaders to become ambassadors who provide peer-to-peer mental well-being support.

Parisi is upbeat about MVP’s future. “Supporting both mental and physical well-being is essential to performance and allows our student-athletes and coaches to be the strongest version of themselves—athletically, academically, and personally.”

Are you a student-athlete interested in MVP? Contact Gina Parisi at glparisi@lclark.edu for more information. Or visit MVP on Instagram (@mvp.lc) and/or YouTube (youtube.com/@PioneersMVP).

MVP Program L&C Athletics