What Is Clinical Sport Psychology?


An innovative, empirically-supported approach to increasing athletes' performance and well-being.

   Clinical sport psychology is an approach to treating athlete performance difficulties and increasing athlete well-being. It was developed by psychologists Frank Gardner and Zella Moore and is presented in their books Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance and Clinical Sport Psychology, as well as numerous articles.

   Clinical sport psychology is a holistic approach to working with athletes which emphasizes client development of: (1) acceptance of internal experiences; (2) attention that is present oriented and non-judgmental; and (3)behavior that integrates short-term athletic performance needs with long-term athletic goals.

   It is holistic because it operates from the perspective that client functioning cannot be neatly categorized as being “clinical” or as “sport” related, but that each athlete-client’s situation is a unique combination of performance, psycho-social, developmental and other other contextual factors. Clinical sport psychology is based on a movement in behavioral psychology known as third wave behaviorism. It also utilizes elements of schema therapy which is an approach that integrates cognitive-behavioral, object-relations, and gestalt ideas and was developed for clinical work with severe and persistent, multi-problem clients.

   Clinical sport psychology is based on a theory of functional and dysfunctional athletic performance which is called the integrated model of athletic performance. This model is based on empirically supported models of human sexual performance and general social performance as well as additional empirical findings in sport psychology, self-regulation, and non-athletic human performance. It is also based on a theoretical model of self-regulation. Self-regulation is the capacity for metacognitve (reflective/mindful) thought processes in the service of increasing the effectiveness of behavior. Metacognition is a psychological state in which internal experiences are conceptualized in broad, distal terms that foster a sense of choice regarding one’s behavioral repertoire. As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl eloquently wrote, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response is our growth and freedom.” The integrated model of athletic performance proposes that, in order to perform optimally, it is important to direct attention towards task relevant, in the moment, external factors as opposed to self-judgmental, worrisome, and future oriented cognitive content.

   An important aspect of this model is the concept of experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is the attempted  avoidance, escape, or decrease of behavioral or cognitive experience, often as a means of regulating affect. Research suggests that most, if not all, psychological or psychiatric disorders can be conceptualized as serving the function of experiential avoidance. Similarly, clinical sport psychology proposes that experiential avoidance functions as a mediator of athlete performance and overall athlete well-being. Keep Reading...

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