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What Is Sports Psychiatry?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated May 17, 2024
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Psychiatry is a medical field dealing with diagnosing, treating and preventing mental disorders. When athletes, often those that are at the top of their game, find that they are not competing at a consistently high level, they may turn to sports psychiatry for a solution. They can work with a sports psychiatrist to uncover any mental blocks and fears that could affect their performance. The athletes then undergo a regimen of mental toughness training and performance strategies to get them back to their peak. With large salaries and pride on the line, sports psychiatry has become a crucial part of an athlete’s life.

The term “in the zone” is used in sports psychiatry to define when an athlete is so absorbed in an action, without distraction, that his probability at succeeding is very high. The psychiatrist will strive to teach the athlete a series of triggers that will help him enter the zone and remain in it for the duration of the game or event. Sports psychiatry can also help an athlete that may be having domestic issues or other life stresses. Typically, the psychiatrist will monitor the athlete from consultation through to treatment, as well as provide ongoing feedback and support. Research is also a large part of the field, as the psychiatrist often needs to fully understand the stresses and physical demands that the sportsman is experiencing.

Some other reasons an athlete may require treatment include attention deficit disorder, psychosis, depression and substance abuse problems. Many times athletes at the top of their game have a natural inclination towards winning and this can sometimes translate into aggression. Because of their celebrity status, their staff and loved ones may be too wary about confronting them. This is where sports psychiatry can help by stepping in as in impartial adviser. The use of steroids and doping is another area in which sports psychiatrists will help with, and attempt to uncover and then treat before the athlete potentially destroys his career.

Becoming a sports psychiatrist requires getting at least a master's degree, and many psychiatrists move on to obtain doctorates. Field work is an important aspect of this training. Sports psychiatrists may end up working for high schools or colleges, large sports teams, or even for a government organization. Some open up lucrative private practices and travel to where the athlete finds himself located at any given time.

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