Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 114

A National Basketball Association Star Revealed the Therapeutic Release of Tattoos

One basketball player endorses the therapeutic potential of tattoos.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Sports, especially male sports, has been one of the last bastions of stigma toward mental illness. Much progress, though, has been made in recent years.

One laggard has been the professional National Basketball Association (NBA), which is now in the midst of its annual playoffs. For the first time in many years since the Michael Jordan era, my beloved Chicago Bulls are participating. Its star this year is DeMar DeRozan and it is he who drew the attention of the NBA, as discussed in the April 19, 2022 article by Michael Lee: “How the NBA got serious about mental health.”1

It was a tweet that reverberated around the NBA over 4 years ago: “This depression got the best of me.” He described how he could no longer mentally ward off the losses and trauma he had experienced in life.

After that, he started to visualize the pain in visible tattoos. His skin is covered with his life story, of loved ones lost and feelings buried. He describes the tattoos as “a therapeutic release.”

Tattoos have been used in many cultures over history to portray values in an artistic way. They have become more acceptable and popular in the United States in recent decades. Polls indicate that about 30% of Americans have at least 1, and 40% of those under the age 35.

The escalation and commonality of tattoos has led to more study and reflection of their potential therapeutic value. Related to the best-selling book The Body Keeps Score,2 tattoos use “from the body out” to proclaim the unspeakable. The pain of the process is part of the healing. Research suggests that not only can the tattoos be therapeutic, but they can be used as a window into the psyche during psychotherapy.3 The main drawback or side effect is the desire to remove them as time goes on, though lasers have made that easier.

For self-disclosure, I do not have any tattoos. I guess my values come out daily in the ink of these columns.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

References

1. Lee M. How the NBA got serious about mental health. The Washington Post. April 19, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/04/19/nba-mental-health-demar-derozan/

2. van der Kolk B. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Publishing Group; 2015.

3. Roggenkamp H, Nicholls A, Pierre JM. Tattoos as a window to the psyche: how talking about skin art can inform psychiatric practice. World J Psychiatry. 2017;7(3):148-158.