Therapist Jane Baxter, 52, is the creator of PsychFit, which fuses exercise and therapy. It’s a combination lawyers like, she says, “because they think in terms of hours.” She lives in Bethesda.
Your practice combines personal training sessions with psychotherapy literally at the same time. How does that work?
When somebody comes in, we first meet and talk for one or two sessions. And then I prepare them for the workout. The workout never changes. Once that’s learned, it becomes really easy to chat and go through it. I don’t think they mentioned exercise once in my master’s program for social work. I thought, This is kinda crazy because it really helps people.
Was that from your experience personally, or from studies?
Personally. So then I was thinking about putting the two together. This was the early ’90s. There weren’t as many research studies putting together exercise with [treating] mood disorders. None of them put it together literally, like I did.
You specialize in addiction management and eating disorders. Do those concerns lend themselves particularly well to exercise?
It’s good for everyone. They’re getting their endorphins up and feeling confident in their body while dealing with what they perceive as the weaknesses in their mind.
Do you remember getting the idea for this practice?
I was on the playground where my kids went to school. Two of the moms were personal trainers. And they told me, “Jane, we have these people who start crying on the treadmill.”
That makes sense. Exertion and stress in one way would bring out stress in another one.
Our bodies carry a lot. When you’re moving, you’re literally opening things up. If we could do some sort of brain imaging each time you come in, you would see how the things would be lighting up differently. You can see the changes in your muscles, which is really great, but your brain is changing, too.
Everyone has heard how exercise and therapy both will improve their lives, but people in general don’t do it regularly. Why do you think that is?
We are wired towards health, which means there’s a kind of will to heal ourselves. People desperately want to try that first. Some people have to really hit bottom. With PsychFit, I think it’s a little more cool, you know? My hope was it would attract that piece of the population that’s ambivalent.
When I first started I was coming at it like an athlete. What’s been a little strange in my life is I’ve developed fibromyalgia [a chronically painful condition]. Recently it’s flared so badly that I can’t exercise.
I’m feeling a lot better, but I had a really bad bout of it, which got my attention. I knew I had it, but I was always like, Okay, it’s pain, whatever. But this was debilitating and exhausting. So now I do ask people, “Do you have physical pain in your body?” Because unless you ask them, people might not even talk about it. And that really affects your mental health. Pain really wears you down.