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A Game-Changing Force For Athlete Mental Health


There has been a rapid rise in media coverage surrounding mental health in athletes, and I have seen first-hand the growing need for professional mental health services in sport at all levels. during practical As a sports and performance psychologist with NBA, MLB, and NFL players, I have witnessed the transformative power that working with a sports psychologist can have on an athlete’s well-being. This work not only positively impacts the athletes’ professional lives, but also helps in their personal lives, as they learn how to deal with stress, as well as set healthy boundaries with those around them.

There is often a multidisciplinary approach when treating mental health conditions in athletes, and these key specialists usually include sports psychiatrists, mental performance coaches, sport and performance psychologists, counsellors, and others. “Integrating a sports psychologist into a team environment greatly enhances the success of both the athletes and the high-performance teams that support them,” he says. Adam LoiaconoPT, DPT, CSCS, Former Director of Rehabilitation, NBA Phoenix Suns.

What is a sports psychologist?

Sports psychologists often work with athletes individually and with sports teams or organizations. When a sports psychologist is brought into a professional sports team environment, he or she often provides several services, including education, workshops, policy development, emergency action planning, and individual services. Therapeutic interventions for athletes can include medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle modifications.

“Sports psychiatrists are vital members of the sports medicine and performance team, and have broad responsibility for the integrated management of the overall health and mental wellbeing of athletes, coaches, team staff and their family members,” he says. David R. McDuff, MDauthor of Sports Psychiatry: Strategies for Life Balance and Peak Performance and member of the International Olympic Committee’s Mental Health Task Force.

How to become a sports psychologist?

While a psychiatrist is a doctor or doctor of osteopathy who specializes in “the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders,” according to the American Psychiatric Association, a sports psychologist is a psychiatrist with additional training and experience in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in athletes. .

The International Society for Sports Psychiatry (ISSP), founded in 1994, has been instrumental in developing the specialty of sports psychiatry through its growing membership platform and links with sports psychiatry clinical and research groups around the world. There is also a new national certification available through American Board of Sports and Performance Psychiatryis also dedicated to advancing the field and maintaining the highest standards of certification, education, and professional practice for board-certified psychologists working in sports.

What are the basic functions of a sports psychologist?

Sports psychiatrists provide mental health evaluations and diagnoses in athletes (usually mood disorders, anxiety disorders, ADHD, substance use disorders, and eating disorders). “Careful assessment of problems and diagnoses must take into account the unique stressors and features of the lives of elite athletes,” says Victor Schwartz, MD, senior associate dean for health and student life at the City University of New York School of Medicine. Once the evaluation is completed, treatment may include using medications, providing psychotherapy, and recommending various lifestyle modifications. “Treatment decisions need to incorporate issues of flexibility of care, timing of drug trials, and particular sensitivity to drug effects, which may be harmless in the general population but very troublesome for elite athletes,” Schwartz says. I have seen how damaging it can be to have a psychologist working with an athlete who is not certified or well-versed in sports psychiatry, as there are many complexities to consider such as controlled substance policies and potential effects of medications on performance.

Brady Howe, MS, ATC, CSCS, former vice president of health and performance for the NBA Phoenix Suns, describes the importance of mental health programming and policy development that a sports psychologist brings to teams and organizations. “With an endless array of psychological obstacles that athletes and coaches face in their pursuit of greatness, having a sports psychologist helps team members focus, build resilience, and maintain high levels of motivation, which ultimately leads to improved performance,” says Howe. And consistency.” Sports Psychiatrists support all team members and athletes in times of mental health crises. To prepare teams for potential crises, sports psychologists are often involved in writing mental health emergency action plans for organization-wide distribution.

Sports psychologists provide support and education to athletes, coaching staff, family, agents, and others involved in supporting athletes. “Sports psychologists can also help address team and interpersonal dynamics, which can be intense and complex in highly competitive environments, and they can help teams create systems of care that successfully address the specific needs of athletes,” says Schwartz, who has been a consultant for several years. The NBA’s Mental Health Program as well as the NCAA, USOPC and NFL.

A sports psychologist supports high-performing employees “by educating them on the proper tools, teaching them awareness of certain emotional cues, or providing them with mental skills training that can help them better support the emotional journey that athletes endure,” Loiacono says. This subspecialty of psychiatry helps athletes and staff of high-performance teams be psychologically equipped to manage the high-pressure environment in sports.

There is a tremendous amount of care coordination with other professionals involved in treating the athlete. “In collaboration with team physicians, athletic trainers, mental performance consultants, and strength and conditioning staff, sports psychologists are uniquely positioned to support optimal performance, life balance, stress management, injury recovery, substance prevention, and mental health and well-being,” he says. Macduff. He continues, “These interprofessional team approaches are the future and will ensure the expansion of whole-person approaches in safe and supportive group environments.”

“The ultimate goal in team sports is to develop a high-performance team and a cultural model that sets each athlete up for success,” says Howe, and sports psychologists play an essential role in helping to achieve these goals.

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Sports and Performance Psychiatry, a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.



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