As a field of study, sport psychology is relatively young, gaining its formalized start in the United States in the 1920s. Then and now, the practice of sport psychology is concerned with the recognition of psychological factors that influence performance and ensuring that individuals and teams can perform at an optimal level. In the past 30 years, sport psychologists have made their way into intercollegiate athletics departments providing mental health and performance enhancement services to intercollegiate student-athletes. The differentiation between mental health practice and performance enhancement practice is still a source of some confusion for individuals tasked with hiring sport psychology professionals. Additionally, many traditionally trained practitioners (in both mental health and performance enhancement) are unaware of the dynamics of an intercollegiate athletic department. The interplay of the practitioner and those departmental dynamics can greatly influence the efficacy of the practitioner.
Christopher M. Bader and Scott B. Martin
Faye F. Didymus
The cognitive–behavioral model of psychotherapy holds cognition at the core of psychological problems and disorders. The theoretical foundations of this model imply that dysfunctional thinking is common to all psychiatric disorders, psychological problems, and medical problems with a psychological component, and that changing an individual’s cognition results in causal changes in emotions and behaviors. In addition, when working with the cognitive–behavioral model, practitioners acknowledge that ongoing cognitive formulation is the basis of effective practice; that working with an individual’s beliefs about themselves, the world, and others results in sustained change; and that neurobiological changes occur following cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT). The cognitive–behavioral model has been successfully applied in many domains (e.g., clinical, occupational, and sport psychology) where interventions are framed around the beliefs that characterize a presenting issue. Cognitive restructuring is one technique for implementing CBT that has been applied in sport and performance psychology. This technique is particularly relevant to performance domains because of the focus on cognitive formulation; the underpinning associations between cognition, emotion, and behavior; and the links between positively valenced emotions and superlative performance. Findings of sport psychology research extend the application of CBT beyond clinical populations and highlight the usefulness of cognitive–behavioral approaches for optimizing experiences of and performance in sport. Some would argue that the first scientifically testable paradigm that was built on the cognitive–behavioral model of psychotherapy, and came chronologically slightly before CBT, is rational emotive behavior theory (REBT). Because both CBT and REBT share cognitive–behavioral roots, they have many similarities in their underpinning assumptions and in the ways that they are applied. REBT, however, focuses on rational and irrational beliefs and the links between an individual’s beliefs and his or her emotions and performance. REBT has a more philosophical focus with motivational theoretical roots when compared to other CBT approaches. Distinguishing features of REBT also lie in the techniques used and, hence, the way in which the underlying principles of the cognitive–behavioral model are applied. Disputing is the applied foundation of REBT and is a method of questioning an individual’s beliefs that generate emotional responses. This technique aims to help an individual recognize and adjust flaws in his or her thinking to work toward a more functional philosophy. Research that has used REBT in sport and performance contexts is sparse but that which does exist highlights the approach as a promising one for optimizing athletes’ beliefs and their emotional, behavioral, and physiological responses.
Although the specific prevalence rates may vary, eating disorders (ED) affect male and female athletes regardless of sport type and competitive level. Generally, rates of subclinical disorders are much higher than clinical ones, with the most frequent clinical classification being Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified. Further, EDs occur not only among active athletes, but are also found in samples of retired athletes as well. Existing research on the prevalence of EDs in athletes, however, has been limited due to its reliance on out-of-date diagnostic criteria, sometimes small samples, and a focus on point prevalence to the exclusion of examining how rates might change over time. Central to prevalence research and clinical assessments is the ability to accurately assess EDs in athletes. Although structured clinical interviews represent the most valid approach, they are time consuming and not often used in determining prevalence. Researchers have relied on self-report measures instead. Such measures include those developed initially in nonathletes, but used to study athletes (e.g., Questionnaire for Eating Disorder Diagnosis; Mintz, O’Halloran, Mulholland, & Schneider, 1997), and those specifically for athletes (e.g., Athletic Milieu Direct Questionnaire; Nagel, Black, Leverenz, & Coster, 2000). Most of these measures, though having adequate psychometric properties, are based on diagnostic criteria that are no longer in use, so additional research that employs prevalence measures that reflect DSM-5 criteria is needed with athletes. Most ED research in sport has used samples of active athletes; few studies have considered how the transition out of sport might affect athletes’ perceptions of their bodies, their relationship to food, and their approaches to exercise and being physically active. Retirement from sport generally is considered to be a developmental stressor and thus may exacerbate ED symptoms and body image concerns in some athletes. Yet, for other athletes, retirement may represent a positive transition in which they emerge from a sport culture, focused on weight and appearance, to reclaim themselves and their bodies. Initial qualitative findings appear to support each hypothesis in part, though longitudinal quantitative studies that track athletes from active competition through retirement are needed to understand the changes athletes experience in relation to their bodies, food, and exercise, and when such changes are most likely to occur.
Zella Moore, Jamie Leboff, and Kehana Bonagura
Major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder are very common diagnoses seen among athletes, and they are serious conditions that can be debilitating if not properly addressed. These disorders warrant careful attention because they can adversely affect multiple domains of an athlete’s life, including athletic motivation, performance outcomes, interpersonal well-being, health, and overall daily functioning. Key foci include the prevalence of, clinical characteristics of, causes of, and risk factors for major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder/dysthymia, bipolar I disorder, and bipolar II disorder. Sport psychologists should integrate such important information into their overall case conceptualization and decision-making processes to ensure that athletes and performers at risk for, or struggling with, such mental health concerns receive the most effective, efficient, and timely care possible.
Felipe B. Schuch and Brendon Stubbs
Depression is a leading cause of global burden affecting people across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic groups. Antidepressants are the cornerstone of treatment, yet treatment response is often inadequate. While some psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy can also help alleviate depressive symptoms, alternative and complimentary treatment options are required. In particular, therapeutic interventions that also address the greatly increased levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease among people with depression may offer added value. With the rising burden of premature mortality due to cardiovascular disease in people with depression and promising evidence base for physical activity to improve depressive symptoms, it is important to review the role, benefits, and underlying neurobiological responses of exercise among people with depression. There has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that higher levels of physical activity reduce a person’s risk of incident depression. It appears that lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness increase an individual risk of depression, suggesting that physical activity and physical fitness have a key role in the prevention of depression. Moreover, exercise can improve depressive symptoms in those with subthreshold depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder. Despite the effectiveness of exercise, the optimal dose and frequency are yet to be fully elucidated. Nonetheless, exercise appears to be well accepted by people with depression, with relatively low levels of dropout from interventions, particularly when supervised by qualified professionals with expertise in exercise prescription. Various barriers to engaging in exercise exist and motivational strategies are essential to initiate and maintain exercise. A number of hypotheses have been postulated to determine the antidepressant effect of exercise; however, most are based on animal models or models elucidated from people without depression. Therefore, future representative research is required to elucidate the neurobiological antidepressant response from exercise in people with depression. Physical activity interventions targeting fitness should be a central part of the prevention and management of depression. In particular, physical activity interventions offer a viable option to prevent and address cardiometabolic abnormalities and cardiovascular disease, which account for a significant amount of premature deaths in this population and are not addressed by standard pharmacological and psychological therapies.