You’re interested in working with a sport psychologist to take your performance to the next level, work through a specific challenge in your sport, or return from injury. Great! However, how do you find one? What do you look for? And how do you know if they have the skills to help you? There are actually a lot of nuances in the field that can make finding the right person, difficult.
Therefore in this article you’ll find the following pro tips:
What keywords to search when looking for a sport psychologist in your area.
What credentials to search for.
Where to search.
What types of issues they address.
What keywords should I search for?
You may have started by looking for a “sport psychologist”. While this makes sense, there are several important features to watch out for.
#1 There are a plethora of highly qualified, well trained clinicians who technically can’t use the title of sport psychologist.
Why? And what do they call themselves instead?
This is because the term psychology/ist is protected and can only be used in a title or description of services if they have a PhD. Therefore, someone with a degree and training in sport psychology, but at the master’s level, cannot technically use this language. Instead, they may refer to themselves in ways such as:
Mental Skills Coach
Mental Performance Coach
Sport and Performance Consultant
Sports Therapist (if they are a licensed therapist)
#2 Some "sport psychologists" may actually have little to no training in the field, or experience in sport / working with athletes.
While the word psychology is protected, the word sport isn’t. Therefore, someone can have a PhD in clinical psychology with no experience whatsoever in athletics, but throw the word sport in front of their title and poof! … they can legally refer to themselves as a "sport psychologist".
In order to screen for this type of person, either check their degree or ask them what courses/training they have done in the field.
What credentials should I look for?
Let’s start by defining the key terms.
AASP - Association of Applied Sport Psychology, the field’s governing body.
CMPC - Certified Mental Performance Consultant, the certification one can receive through AASP.
Pro: Great sport psych and in-depth knowledge of the needs and language of athletes.
Con: May lack the mental health experience you need - etc, grief, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders - requiring you to find a second provider to address those areas.
LPC or LCSW or LMFT - Different types of licensed therapists. (The letters vary by state.)
Pro: Great knowledge around the human mind and mental health issues noted above which often connect to obstacles showing up in sport.
Con: May lack the context, knowledge of and language surrounding sport.
Note: LPC-C, LSW and MFT are unlicensed therapists.
MA - Someone who may have a master’s degree in sport psychology, but has neither their CMPC certification nor is a licensed therapist.
PhD - Doctorate level therapist, who may have a specialization in sport psychology.
Here are some other details to note:
#3 There are some folks that have BOTH sport psychology training AND are licensed mental health therapists. This would look like:
PhD in Sport Psychology
Licensed therapist + CMPC / MA in Sport Psychology
#4 Becoming a CMPC is NOT required to use your sport psychology degree or work effectively with athletes.
Why would someone choose to not get the CMPC certificate?
There are various reasons including: Cost (~ $2500 for supervision + the test + yearly membership fees), excessive oversight (for licensed therapists, having to be ruled by multiple governing bodies equates to greater restrictions and liability), or the fact that it’s not required at this time.
Where should I search for a sport psychologist?
Here are my go-to resources. However, note that these won’t include every good option. Also, they may include several folks that don’t have the experience to meet your needs. Therefore you’ll need to look at credentials, degrees and background to make sure you find the right fit.
CMPC Directory - Certified consultants through AASP, both MA and PhD.
Psychology Today - Licensed and pre-licensed therapists
The CMPC Directory is your number one source to find CMPC’s, but won’t show you the fully trained clinicians who have simply opted out of getting their certificate.
Psychology Today has a category for Sports Performance that you can filter by. However, as of this writing, this website does not require clinicians to show any proof of sport psychology training and therefore, any person or former athlete who wants to attract athlete clients can simply check this box.
How can a sport psychologist help me?
This may vary a little depending on the qualifications of your clinician and whether they have sport psych training, mental health training or both. Therefore, I’ve broken it down into two categories: sport psychology vs. mental health skill sets.
#5 Trained sport psychologists as well as licensed therapists who also have a CMPC or MA in sport psychology will most likely have the strongest combination of both categories.
Sport Psychology can help with:
Training or competition anxiety
Fear, doubt and worry
Injury and return from injury
Stress or overwhelm
A desire to be mentally tougher
Focus, attention and concentration
Teamwork and cohesion
Mental Health can help with:
Mindfulness and coping skills
Suicidal ideation and self harm
Grief and loss
Chronic pain tolerance
Balancing work, school and sport
Conflict conversations and assertiveness
Once you’ve decided who you are looking for, here is a resource to guide you through the process of setting up consult calls as you screen for goodness of fit, and/or if you are seeking a licensed therapist.
Good luck with your search and don’t hesitate to reach out if you are interested in a consultation call to work with Mental Gear Closet! (I am both a licensed therapist and have a MA in Sport & Performance Psychology from the University of Denver.)