How can we successfully integrate sport psychology into sport and exercise medicine education?

Heaney, Caroline (2018). How can we successfully integrate sport psychology into sport and exercise medicine education? BASEM Today, 44 pp. 22–25.


Research has demonstrated that psychological factors such as stress can increase the risk of injury and that the occurrence of a sports injury can lead to several negative psychological responses including feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, fear, helplessness and resentment (Brewer and Redmond, 2017). Such negative reactions can potentially impact on rehabilitation behaviour (e.g. adherence to a rehabilitation programme) and outcomes (e.g. recovery time) and therefore it is important that the sports injury rehabilitation professional (SIRP) takes a biopsychosocial approach to their work with the injured athlete (Brewer and Redmond, 2017).

Although the importance of psychological factors in both the prevention of and the rehabilitation from sports injury is well documented, injured athletes often find this a neglected part of their rehabilitation (Kamphoff, Thomae, & Hamson-Utley, 2013). SIRPs such as physiotherapists and sports therapists are considered by many to be ideally placed to offer a degree of psychological support due to their close proximity and regular interaction with the injured athlete (Arvinen-Barrow, Massey, & Hemmings, 2014; Lafferty, Kenyon, & Wright, 2008), however, previous research has suggested that SIRPs of various guises often feel underprepared for such a role (Arvinen-Barrow, Penny, Hemmings, & Corr, 2010; Heaney, Rostron, Walker, & Green, 2017). Consequently, the appropriate education and training of SIRPs in sport psychology has become a topic of interest in recent years (Heaney, Walker, Green, & Rostron, 2015).

Various studies have investigated the impact of sport psychology education on SIRPs. Earlier studies focused on US athletic trainers (Clement & Shannon, 2009; Harris, Demb, & Pastore, 2005; Stiller-Ostrowski, Gould, & Covassin, 2009), whilst more recent work has focused on UK physiotherapists and sports therapists (Heaney, Rostron et al., 2017; Heaney, Walker, Green, & Rostron, 2017). This research has consistently shown sport psychology education to be of benefit to SIRPs. In their systematic review of the literature Heaney et al. (2015) concluded that sport psychology education interventions for SIRPs were effective in improving both sport psychology related knowledge and behaviour. This provides a strong indication that sport psychology education should be made available to SIRPs. Ideally this training should be provided as part of the undergraduate and postgraduate training of SIRPs, but given the consistent finding in the research that qualified SIRPs often feel unprepared to provide sport psychology support to injured athletes (Alexanders, Anderson, & Henderson, 2015; Heaney, Rostron et al., 2017), education opportunities also need to be provided for those who are already qualified. This article proposes recommendations and a model for the integration of sport psychology into the education and training of SIRPs.

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