Good Company: How Riser + Tread Combines Mental Health and Sports

Based just outside of Boston, Riser + Tread  helps young men take accountability and move forward in their lives through a combination of therapy and coaching. 

“We differentiate ourselves through our expertise and focus on working with male mental health. We also know guys, particularly young guys, often need and request more than just an ear,” co-founder
Jotham Busfeld
says. “They and their parents want concrete tools and strategies, steps they can take which will affect actual change in their lives.”

Combining more than 20 years of experience specializing in male mental health, Riser + Tread was founded in 2019 by
Busfield,
a licensed independent clinical social worker , and Jon
Cunha,
a licensed mental health counselor. The duo believe that a hybrid approach of therapy and coaching is ideal for young men who are stuck and need to build positive momentum; they’ve found most are resistant to the traditional idea of therapy and therefore find the concept of coaching more approachable.

“Males, historically, have been encouraged to follow the ‘Men’s Playbook’ that we have heard so many athletes refer to.…‘Keep problems to yourself, suck it up, handle it yourself, be strong and stoic, and show no weakness,’ Busfeld says. “We encourage a new and smarter type of strength, that of strength through vulnerability and mental health learning.” 

Cunha was a three-time collegiate All-American in track and field until injury ended his aspirations of reaching the Olympics. That experience led him on a path towards supporting others going through similar challenges; Riser + Tread has developed a niche among athletes by viewing athletics as a window into mindset and mental fitness.

“The athletes we work with are accustomed to working with a coach. A coach’s role is to improve play, provide feedback and support. Our role is the same,” Cunha says. “The difference is instead of strengthening the body we strengthen the mind.”

While many people across the age/gender spectrum have benefitted from Riser + Tread’s services, they refer to a majority of their clients as “young guys,” aged 9-25.

THE ITEM

Like many service-based companies, business at Riser + Tread started to decline in the beginning of the pandemic. Staff realized that Zoom sessions were unlikely to be productive for their young clients, so they reached out to parents in the community to find out how they could help in new ways. 

This led to creating YouTube videos with helpful information for parents on subjects like video game use, sleep hygiene, and how to encourage their children to reach out for help when they are struggling. Positive feedback on the videos led to the creation of The Grim Drive Podcast.

“I think the pandemic forced us to get creative, tap into and commit to the things we are great at, and take some chances,” Busfeld says. “It forced us to think outside the box and this has led to growth as a company we likely would not have seen otherwise.” 

THE PRICE

Riser + Tread offers free consultations for prospective clients, which it recommends as a great way to ensure fit prior to starting along the path to progress. Assessments cost US$275, and ongoing sessions are US$175 per session. (The practice maintains three Boston-area locations in Concord,
Lexington,
and Newton Upper Falls.) The podcast and YouTube videos are free to access.

DESCRIPTION 

Born out of the pandemic’s effects on mental health, Cunha and Busfield took Riser + Tread’s therapy and coaching service and translated it into the The Grim Drive Podcast. 

Each episode focuses on one athlete and one topic relating to mental fitness, mental health, or mental illness. In recent years, notable professional athletes have been coming forward with more stories about their mental health journey, what they have endured, and how they managed to push through, reflecting a mental health stigma that continues to dissipate across society. 

With Cunha and Busfield as the hosts, recent episodes have included a look at Olympic champion gymnast
Simone
Biles and mental fitness, NBA star
Kevin Love
and his battles with anxiety, and retired NFL star
Brandon Marshall’s
story of living with borderline personality disorder. The first 30 to 40 episodes are being recorded without guests so Cunha and Busfield can assess the podcast before inviting athletes and coaches as guests.

“The podcast is a way for people to learn about mental fitness, mental health, and mental illness, through the lens of sports,” Busfield says. “We want to do our part to further reduce the stigma associated with mental health by highlighting the athletes who have shown strength through vulnerability, spoken up, and spoken out.”

WHAT’S THE GOOD?

As it enters its third year as a practice, Riser + Tread is planning a nonprofit wing, which will focus on a two-part mental health scholarship. One part will focus on design students and will involve an architectural competition to design something with the mental health of the user in mind, and the other part will focus on psychology/social work/counseling students and entrepreneurialism, challenging applicants to design a business aiming to improve mental health care. The company will be donating US$10,000 to get this started, and expects to attract sponsors.

WHAT’S NEXT

Riser + Tread plans to expand its sports performance and recovery program, which, in addition to supporting the mental fitness development of athletes, is geared towards helping athletes returning from injury. 

“When an athlete is injured, they are given the tools and support to recover their physical body. For example, if you sprain an ankle, you see a physical therapist to recover. However, the same level of automaticity is not applied to repairing the mind after an injury,” Cunha says. “Too many times we see athletes struggle emotionally when they lose their sport due to injury. This program is designed to help support them both during the injury, and also strengthen them for their return.” 

In addition to expanding the podcast’s reach, the Riser + Tread team is aiming to create a book and online program geared towards male mental fitness, while partnering with community organizations to help improve mental health care, education, awareness, and parity in the healthcare landscape.