Sport Psychology & Athlete Mental Health –

During last summer’s Olympics, athlete mental health made the medal stand as top athletes opened up about the immense pressure they experience and how they cope. With the Winter Olympics beginning soon, Richard Ginsburg, PhD, co-founder of the Sport Psychology Program within the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, explains what sport psychology is, the importance of mental health in athletics and how working with a sport psychologist can impact an athlete’s performance.

What is sport psychology?

The American Psychological Association defines sport psychology as a proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental and social aspects of sports participation, and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations.

The mission of the Sport Psychology Program at Mass General is to promote healthy psychological functioning, character and optimal athletic performance for athletes of all ages. Our program also provides guidance to parents, coaches and administrators who support them. We work with athletes on both performance enhancement and clinical mental health needs.

We found that because sports are accessible and playful, they are a non-threatening entry point to reaching people who might not otherwise seek treatment for mental health issues that may or may not be related to their athletic performance like anxiety. We’ve developed a niche in seeing athletes who have performance challenges and other issues that need to be addressed, and we do so in a proactive and non-pathologizing way.

How did you find your way to this specialty?

There are two avenues for this profession: some sport psychology professionals have a master’s or PhD in the discipline and focus specifically on performance enhancement using strategies like goal setting, visualizing and self-talk. Others have a license in clinical psychology who, in addition to counselling on performance enhancement, can provide clinical interventions as well.

I played college sports, and then became a teacher and coach, and from that experience, I became interested in the clinical psychology side of athletics. I attended graduate school to study psychology broadly. After earning my PhD, I was able to blend my psychology expertise with my own passion for sports into a sport psychology career.

Stephen Durant, EDD and I founded the Sport Psychology program within the Department of Psychiatry at Mass General in 2000. Our …….


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