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Who’s Who? Understanding Sports Psychologists, Sports Psychiatrists, & Mental Health Counselors.


Mental health professionals may carry different titles and also have differing specialty training, but they all can be crucial resources for any student-athlete. In order to take full advantage of all these professionals have to offer, it is important to understand how one might differentiate between these helpful practitioners.


Mental health counselors or psychotherapists are trained to work with a wide range of individuals to manage and overcome mental health struggles like anxiety, depression, and trauma. Their professional degrees include Ph.D., Psy.D, and LCSW. Generally, a mental health counselor may use therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and talk therapy to help a client work through issues and improve day-to-day functioning.


Sports psychologists (whose professional degrees also include: Ph.D., Psy.D, and LCSW) have similar training to mental health counselors, but these providers typically also have completed additional specialty training in order to help athletes and others involved in sports improve their athletic performances. They work with students to manage stress and overcome mental barriers that may be holding them back in the field of competition. A sports psychologist may use a variety of techniques, including visualization, goal setting, and relaxation methods to help their clients to achieve their athletic goals.


A third classification worth noting is sports psychiatrists. A sports psychiatrist is a medical doctor, carrying either M.D. or D.O. professional degree. Their training involves similar psychotherapy practices as the previously listed professions, as well as, practice prescribing medications used to treat mental health disorders.


Of course, since all are mental health professionals, there is plenty of overlap between what each role has to offer. In practice, any general mental health practitioner is equipped with the evaluation and assessment tools to provide both a diagnosis and recommendations for mental health treatment. However, identified sports psychologists and psychiatrists have more specialty training with athletes. They are thus more likely to have the experience necessary for improving an athlete’s head space to maximize athletic performance.


Student-athletes should be aware that on most campuses, each of these professionals may be available to them, and can play important roles in helping an athlete overcome challenges and supporting his or her overall well-being in different ways.





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