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What Does a Sports Psychiatrist Do?

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  • Written By: Susan Abe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 29 June 2014
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A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed additional clinical training in the form of a residency, and board certification by examination in psychiatry. A sports psychiatrist specializes in the treatment of amateur or professional athletes and the situations unique to their careers. While psychologists and psychiatrists have always treated individual athletes on an as-needed basis, the recognition of sports psychiatry as a separate specialty of psychiatry is relatively recent. Coping with failure or success, self-discipline efforts, unrealistic expectations and interpersonal relationships are all issues that might be addressed by a sports psychiatrist. Relationships that may require attention include those an athlete has with his family, teammates, coach, agent and fans.

Many successful professional athletes have attained dominance in their respective sports by demonstrating extreme self-discipline. This personality and behavior characteristic can morph into a dysfunctional form of perfectionism under certain circumstances, such as failure to attain goals or continuously resetting an acceptable performance at a higher and higher level. A sports psychiatrist is familiar with these processes and can diagnose an underlying depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder if these mental disorders are part of this scenario. As a medical doctor, a sports psychiatrist can prescribe psychiatric medications as necessary. If an athlete's perfectionism is instead a personality disorder, a sports psychiatrist might begin psychotherapy with the patient or refer him to a sports psychologist for talk therapy.

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The adulation many professional athletes receive from their fans can negatively influence their personal relationships with friends, family and significant others if an athlete begins to believe that all of their relationships should follow the athlete-fan model. A sports psychiatrist can recognize martial problems, serial relationships or continuous family disruptions as potential indicators of this misunderstanding on the part of the athlete. Cognitive therapy provided by a sports psychiatrist or psychologist may help an athlete recognize this distortion, if he is open to examining or changing his self-image. Sports psychiatry can promote the stability of an athlete's relationships with friends and family based upon recognition and treatment of this syndrome. Such stability can be an enormous asset to an athlete working in an always-changing work environment.

Other areas of focus to a sports psychiatrist might include substance abuse, eating disorders, recovery from physical injury and issues surrounding aging and money. Aging and recovery from physical injuries will inevitably arise in any athlete's career. His ability to deal with these issues in a constructive way depends upon a healthy self-esteem and stable relationships. In the absence of such, an individual may turn to substance abuse or other areas of addiction. A sports psychiatrist is trained to recognize these unhealthy coping methods and has techniques for successful intervention.

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