Brain Bouldering by Dr. Jane Thompson, Psy.D

Last Friday, my husband and step-son suggested that we go to Tufas Boulder Lounge on Saturday. I am not the most adventurous person when it comes to doing things where I could fall, so of course, I thought of about 15 reasons to bail. Not wanting to spoil the fun, I decided it would be a great time to hang with my boys and test out my new hip.


I had a hip replacement about nine weeks ago. Needing a new, shiny hip was the result of a car accident I was in during my 20’s. During this accident, I was hit head-on by a car going roughly 45 mph. Among many other injuries, I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. I experienced deficits, but nothing that could stop me from getting my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. During my program, I did a year and a half practicum under a neuropsychologist. I loved learning about the brain, especially when it came to understanding my own injury and helping others with theirs.


So what does that have to do with bouldering?


As we were watching my badass step-son rule the wall, my husband and I were talking about how climbing is not only physical but mental. It uses a number of different skill sets. Not only do you have to be physically strong, but strategic, quick thinking, and decisive under pressure. This made me think of the ways performing bouldering could activate new neuronal pathways in the brain.


When the brain experiences damage, different areas can be wiped out or experience deficits. For example, one thing I struggle with post-injury is impulse control. I am a kind of shoot first, aim later person to begin with, but since my injury, it is especially difficult to be patient and thoughtful when I want to do something athletic. Bouldering taught me to slow down, focus, and strategize. This created new pathways in my brain to help me “aim” with less impulsivity and more accuracy. Pathways in the brain become more solidified the more you do something. So doing bouldering consistently will set these pathways in my brain and help me to think and act in a more thoughtful, effective way.


Frequently engaging in a new activity helps every brain, not just one that has been injured. I often encourage the athletes I work within my practice to learn other sports. It’s helpful to be a multi-sport athlete in order to learn new skills and to enhance different muscles in the body and the brain! Things you learn in one sport, can translate into another or can enhance an existing skill.


Who knew my husband and step-son were going to help me create some new pathways? It even helped me strategize and retrace my steps when I left my phone near the iPads where you do the waiver…



Dr. Jane Thompson is a licensed professional counselor and adjunct professor in graduate studies at Immaculata University. She resides in Downingtown, PA with her awesome husband and super cool children. She has a passion for helping care for those with a variety of mental health issues. Jane also works with athletes to improve performance, cope with adversity, and reduce anxiety. She also specializes in body image, sexuality, gender identity, and helping others to feel empowered in their body. You can visit her website here.