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He’s the former Sale Sharks flanker who’s embarking on a new role working for the RPA’s confidential counselling service providers and mental wellbeing experts, Cognacity. Meet John Carter, the most successful Oxford University captain in history and a fully qualified psychodynamic psychotherapist.

New Role

When I finished playing professional rugby I completed an MSt in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy at Oxford University. Following the degree I started working in a school as well as privately in Oxford, whilst continuing research at the University on transition from professional sport. Having worked closely with the RPA in the past I knew they had a fantastic partnership with Cognacity. I made the trip to Harley Street to meet with Dr Phil Hopley and Dr Gary Bell, both Consultant Psychiatrists at Cognacity. Phil and Gary were very welcoming and it was from there that I began a new role as a psychotherapist at Cognacity, where I see a broad range of clients, including professional athletes. It’s a great position as it allows me to integrate my experience from professional sport to help others, as well as to be part of an exceptional organisation that is consistently striving to be the best in its field. Cognacity has a strong set of values with a focus on people, and maintains a very consistent theme of working together to develop the understanding of mental health in society.

Working with Athletes

Working with athletes is interesting and fulfilling. It is a wonderful feeling to share a space and connect with another person. I always work very hard to understand the person who sits across from me, to build trust in our relationship so that they may feel comfortable sharing what are often very painful experiences and feelings. Just as Cognacity is committed to continual improvement, I continuously develop my expertise to create meaningful difference to the people I work with. I do this by reflecting deeply on my clinical and theoretical work and by pursuing extensive professional development opportunities. I am currently completing my PhD in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the University of Oxford. The work is challenging, rewarding and incredibly fulfilling with the vital aim being the improvement of client mental health.

Understanding the Competitive Mind

Athletes often face a range of different emotions, pressures and difficulties. I work with each person individually, attempting to understand the uniqueness and individuality of their experience. While high performance is key to success in the role of the athlete, the pressure, stress and losses suffered in the professional sport environment can cause the individual to experience a range of complex and distressing side effects. Many athletes who find themselves performing at elite levels have often enjoyed and thrived under the pressures that they find in those environments, so when something changes, goes wrong or a mental health issue does arise, it can not only be incredibly distressing in and of itself, but it can also be an overwhelming shock to their experience and their assumed capacity to deal with the unexpected. For example, the loss of something a person loves, whether a sport, a relationship, or a set of relationships, will inevitably cause extreme pain. This often needs to be processed in the presence of another person and, at this point, it is vitally important to reach out for support.

It’s Ok to Ask

I often find people isolate themselves when faced with difficult and upsetting circumstances rather than seek help. This can also be common in people and athletes who value their independence and have found success in their self-reliance. Sometimes the longer the isolation occurs the harder it becomes to reach out. Seeking help early is essential and can be a very powerful, preventative measure against further seclusion and loneliness in the face of an already difficult time. 

Lift the Weight

The Lift the Weight campaign has raised awareness of mental health in sport and has created an incredible impact. My experience working with the RPA has always been very positive - it is such a caring and proactive organisation, which the Lift the Weight campaign has illustrated. Mental health is one of the most pressing challenges of our current time, not just in sport, but in society. With organisations like the RPA and Cognacity I feel we are making positive strides every day.

RPA members can access 24/7 confidential support by contacting Cognacity on 01373 858 080. For important resources and advice please visit the Lift the Weight online hub: