Sports psychiatry is a relatively new discipline in mental health and the main goal of the sports psychiatrist is to carry the science of psychiatry into the athlete population, whether that be elite, college, or recreational athletes. The athlete population, in general, tends to be hesitant about seeking mental health help, whether that be a therapist or a psychiatrist, often due to the stigma of seeming weak. Sports psychiatrists obtain specialized training specific to the unique needs of an athlete such as how psychiatric medication may or may not affect performance, understanding the role of overtraining as well as the significance of a sports injury on one’s emotional health. They are also keenly aware of how mental illnesses can manifest from and/or within sport such as as traumatic brain injuries, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. Sports psychiatrists can work in private practice, college, or academic settings.
Sports psychiatrists receive different training from sports psychologists. Whereas sports psychologists primarily focus on performance enhancement, sports psychiatrists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness amongst athletes. Psychiatrists complete medical school as well as a four year residency in psychiatry. They can discuss the pros and cons of psychiatric medications, as well as alternative treatments. Psychologists, on the other hand, complete graduate school and are experts of the function of the brain specifically. They perform both psychological testing and provide psychotherapy.
In the future, we will likely be seeing psychiatrists and more psychologists embedded within the sports medicine field, working alongside coaches, athletic trainers, sports medicine physicians, and psychologists.