Sports psychiatry

by Professor Alan Currie and Professor Steve Peters


Last updated: February 2020


It is now acknowledged that athletes can experience difficulties with their mental health and that any psychiatric condition can present in the sports arena.


All good doctors have diagnostic skills. Alongside this, they seek to understand the affected individual and the context in which an illness has emerged. For the sports psychiatrist, this means acquiring specialised knowledge about the athlete and the sports environment in which they perform. Existing interventions in the biological, psychological and social realms can all be adapted for use in the world of sport, and incorporating this specialised knowledge into a formulation is the basis for engagement and developing a treatment plan.


Athletes face obstacles when accessing psychiatric care. Psychiatrists need not only the clinical knowledge and skills to treat athletes but also a willingness to reach out and the ability to engage.


There are many sources of pressure in the sports environment. The psychiatrist who takes time to understand these is in a position to help an athlete (and their team) to build the mental skills to respond effectively to these pressures.


It is still relatively uncommon for psychiatrists to work in elite sport. The barriers to greater involvement need to be understood if they are to be overcome.

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