Finding a Sport Psychologist
It can be quite difficult to know where to go, or who to contact when you decide you need the expertise of a sport psychologist. It’s such a new field, that many people just don’t know what to look for, or how to find the practitioner who best suits their needs. It also means that, at times, unqualified people are getting work they shouldn’t be doing, and even worse, perhaps damaging a team’s or a person’s well-being in the process.
Know your needs
First things first. While this post relates to Ireland, the guidelines remain the same. Be vigilant. Ask questions. Know your needs. And look for certification.
What is a Sport Psychologist?
In Ireland (and this may change in the future), the only people who can call themselves Sport and Exercise Psychologists are those who have a qualification in the field, and, crucially, who also are accredited by the Sport Ireland Institute. The accreditation process is quite arduous, and it involves doing supervised practice for a period of time and then submitting a lot of paperwork to be evaluated. This ensure quality of care to clients, a high standard of ethics and protection for all involved. You should always ask whether people are accredited and if not, ask them why not. Like I said, it’s a long road to accreditation (and it shouldn’t be easy!) but if someone is in the process of doing so, they’re being supervised and that’s ok too. If you’re outside Ireland, ask practitioners who their governing body is. Every country has their own version.
Who can call themselves a Sport and Exercise Psychologist?
Outside of what I’ve outlined above, nobody else can call themselves a sport and exercise psychologist in the Republic of Ireland. Sport psychology is a science, but a science involving human beings and emotions and therefore it has to be done right. The potential for damage is too great. Unfortunately, the title Sport Psychologist is not protected yet in Ireland, like the way Dietician or Physiotherapist is, and sometimes some unscrupulous individuals can take advantage of this. A weekend course, or a certificate does not qualify anyone to mess with the minds of your teammates, your coaches or your children.
Having a Masters Degree in sport psychology alone does not allow people to use the title. Or an undergraduate degree in psychology. Or a qualification in mindfulness. Or psychotherapy. Or counselling. Or their own personal sporting achievements. Sport psychology is a specific skill that requires unique training. That said, people with the above qualifications can also bring a lot to the table. But you need to be clear what they are.
The next thing you need to ask is whether they are insured. A doctor wouldn’t be allowed prescribe to patients without insurance, you can’t drive your car without it, anyone dealing with the mind should be insured as well. A massive red flag should wave if they aren’t insured, or aren’t working toward accreditation, or don’t have the appropriate bits of paper to show they have the experience required.
It’s great that more teams, organisations and athletes are embracing sport psychology. It’s a fantastic addition to any backroom team, and we all know that in a competitive field, she with the fit body and mind will always beat those who haven’t done their head homework. Make sure whoever you work with has also put in the same hard yards as you have. If you haven’t a clue where to start, get in touch with the Sport Ireland Institute, and they’ll be able to recommend practitioners in your area.