Sport Psychologist’s Input on Athletic Trainer’s Involvement with Athletes & Mental Health

As an Athletic Trainer, it’s important to get input from certified sport psychologist’s regarding their thoughts on athletic trainer’s involvement with athletes.  Athletic trainer’s find themselves heavily involved with psychological issues on a daily basis.

Dr. Justin Anderson Psy. D, LP. is a licensed psychologist who practices through his own company who he run’s with his wife Dr. Carlin Anderson Ph.D., LP, CC-AAS at Premier Sport Psychology and also provides the University of Minnesota athletic department with comprehensive sport psychology services.  He works with athletic trainers and athletes on a daily basis.

  1. Since you’ve been employed at the University of Minnesota, how has your relationship with athletic trainers helped or hurt your practice?
  • I believe it has definitely helped.  The ATC’s are typically the closest to the athletes and tend to have a good grasp of how athletes are doing from a health and wellness standpoint.  Therefore, the athletic trainers who are well versed and understand how psychology can benefit their athletes are providing us with the most referrals.  We get a majority of referrals from athletic trainers (over academic counselors, coaches, administration, or faculty). 
  • Athletic trainers tend to be well trusted by an athlete, so if they’re making a recommendation to see a sport psychologist, most will take the next step in getting support they need to become a better athlete and healthier person.Do you feel there is a greater need for sport psychology courses/education for athletic trainers?
  1. Do you feel there’s a greater need for sport psychology training in an athletic trainer’s education?
  • Yeah, I think athletic trainers will continue seeing a lot of mental health issues, so being able to identify symptoms early and make proper referrals to sport psychologists can help reduce a possible crisis issue down the road.  It takes education to recognize those symptoms and understand the benefits of psychological interventions.
  1. What advice could you give to a recently certified athletic trainer on handling mental health issues?
  • Be able to spot and identify the big mental health issues (significant depression and anxiety)
  • Off the field issues can greatly impact performance on the field… so learn how to casually check in with athletes and see how they are doing from a holistic perspective
  • Learn how to normalize the mental health/well-being mental side of training.  Understand how best to make referrals without adding stigma to it.   Refer to sport psychology as a “no brainer” (i.e., it is now just part of the athlete development process- why wouldn’t an athlete want to improve health and performance?)
  • Understand sport psychology professionals can work on the spectrum of issues from clinical mental health issues, to improving one’s mental side of performance
  • Refer more athletes who are doing well to sport psychologist to continue to improve.  We don’t always want it about deficiencies in performance or well-being.
  1. What’s your opinion on Athletic Trainer’s being “too involved” with athlete’s health?
  • Maybe in some cases one can become too involved, but in general we haven’t seen too much evidence of athletic trainers being too enmeshed with athletes.  The athletic trainers we’ve worked with at the U of M have had a great level of professionalism, which keeps the boundaries in a healthy place.
  1. What’s your opinion on athletic trainer’s ability to maintain their own mental health?  What are some coping mechanisms you could suggest if someone is having a hard time?
  • Being an athletic trainer can be physically and emotionally draining.  Be sure to get plenty of energy for the body (physically – e.g., Good rest, diet, exercise, etc)  and mind (emotionally- e.g., find some balance or take time away from work/sport, ability to  take quick/short relaxation breaks during the day/moment, and seek fuel from others (athletic trainers spend a great deal of time taking care of others, so it is essential to
    find a support network that will check in every so often.  If needed, come see a sport psychologist and we can give few more tips to optimize your thinking and overall well-being!)

Dr. Justin Anderson Premier Sport Psychology

Thank you Dr. Anderson for taking the time to answer these important questions.


Articles regarding burnout in athletic trainers:

Click to access jathtrain00002-0021.pdf

Click to access attr-44-01-58.pdf

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